In his day job as front man for The Hold Steady, Craig Finn has fashioned himself as a performer flush with verbosity and the art of persuading all the air guitar auteurs in listening range to genuflect with inspired admiration. Like Springsteen, Bono, Willie Nile, Willie Deville and all the others that profess to champion the tattered masses, he proffers a blue collar ethic that rings with anthemic insistence. His molasses soaked vocals convey absolute authority, making each song sound like a desperate attempt to ring truth and salvation from even the most despairing circumstances.
Given that The Hold Steady take the same tack, one has to wonder what extra additive he gains by pursuing his solo career, but in fact, his initial individual outing, 2012‘s Clear Heart Full Eyes, bolstered his profile considerably and that of the band in the process. That gives this follow-up effort some degree of added anticipation, and if the title is any indication, it could be setting the stage for Finn’s eventual exit. That’s only speculation of course, but given the fact that both he and the band cover similar turf, there seems little logic in duplicating his efforts.
Not surprisingly then, Faith in the Future emerges as an album filled with drive and deliberation. While there’s room for the occasional respite — mainly in the three back to back ballads, “Sarah, Calling From a Hotel,” “Going to a Show” and “Sandra from Scranton” — the bulk of the album is bolstered by raging rockers, precise rhythms and an air of unabashed urgency. The fact that Finn name checks many of his subjects in the song titles — the aforementioned “Sarah, Calling From a Hotel” and “Sandra from Scranton,” as well as “Maggie I’ve Been Searching for Our Son,” “Newmeyer’s Roof,” and “Christine” et. al. — adds an extra sense of immediacy to the proceedings, as if Finn is intent on conveying the everyday circumstances he regularly witnesses. It leaves a formidable impression and, in turn, brings these tales an added circumspect and plausibility.
That said, Finn doesn’t always opt to go full tilt. He plays with the tempos, varying the pulse, not to deter the impact, but rather to let the music breathe and keep the narrative intact. After all, he already fronts a powerhouse outfit in The Hold Steady. If the intent is to draw more of the spotlight towards him, the effect works well. This is, after all, a solo outing and not one intended to emphasize the overall ensemble. And even though the arrangements all work well, it’s still Finn that comes to the fore.
Whether or not Faith in the Future is the beginning of a permanent break from his buddies remains to be seen, but if it is, it’s a good way to kick things off. “Some nights I keep it a secret,” he sings on the album’s final entry, “I Was Doing Fine (Then a Few People Died).” “Some nights I try to get noticed.” It’s hard to know which mode he’s in at the moment, but one would be well advised to consider the latter.