Craig Finn Keeps The Colorful Lyrics Comin’ On ‘We All Want The Same Things’ (ALBUM REVIEW)


We All Want The Same Things is the third solo album from Craig Finn and the man who is best known as the frontman of The Hold Steady has been putting lots of effort into his solo career with a few hits and misses mixed in.

His first, Clear Heart Full Eyes (2012) had songs written from a transitional place in his life (and that of the lifelike characters who populate his songs) all backed by Austin, TX based players to directly alter his sound into a bleaker SXSW vibe, an interesting effort that never truly took off. His second was more stripped down, acoustic and stark. Faith In The Future (2015) focuses strongly on his grown up view of the scene he helped create, linking old story songs to a “Where Are They Now?” sense of time moving on. Now comes We All Want The Same Things finding Finn still lyrically having characters dealing with comparable situations (like old reluctant dealers, shimmering pretty addicts, divorcees and a sea of them at wits end and worse) while completely experimenting again with his backing sound.

Finn himself is so perfectly tied to that bar band, big rock sound and the tracks here are all incredibly varied. It is that searching quality that will make each solo album an interesting listen, but not all the efforts soar.

There is almost a sense that the lyrics were mapped out and the players said, “how can we make this unique” after the fact. Overproduced at times, experimenting and unsure of next steps, almost as if it was a hip-hop record, adding swirling background sounds and dancey grooves for the hell of it (see “Preludes” and “Tangletown”). The opener “Jester & June” is a classic Finn tale of a holy couple who don’t feel so hopeful at the moment as tons of musical happenings fly around the words. A squawking sax, odd metal string blares (the inside of the piano?) distorted drums and guitars all peak in and bop around, but never take hold.

“Birds Trapped In The Airport” puts a skittering, almost digital backbeat, behind odd electronic sounds dangerously recalling a New Wave sound that Finn the lyricist once hoped he wouldn’t have to live through twice. There are better efforts, however, “Rescue Blues” is an easy roller that is acoustic based and the slow building “It Hits When It Hits” is a tension-filled journey.Then there is “God In Chicago”. The spoken word centerpiece of the album is pure Finn, while his singing style has always been close to talking, this is the first time he goes full-on storyteller with just a piano, late arriving drum and delicate organs/backing vocals supporting the tale. It is staggering in its simplicity and power, Finn is a writer’s songwriter and this track is an indie film waiting to happen.

The album ends with two very engaging efforts, the first is “Tracking Shots” and this is the most rock and roll the album gets. A stripped down careening effort that could smash off the tracks at any moment, it mixes a rambling punk feel with a hot soul injection winningly, perhaps this is a direction he may want to more explore in the future.

The closer “Be Honest” is one of the best songs Finn has constructed in his solo career. It combines all of his experimenting styles but edits them down into something wonderful. Big drums, jangling percussion, some sort of electro-organ, warm soft horns, dramatic builds, flutes, bass drops and a teetering piano. All of this around a huge tale that contains more weight than just a night out; there is gravity here a sense of something bigger, something better.

Highs and lows, strikes and balls, that would be the final summation of We All Want The Same Things, but there is no doubting Finn is still one of the most colorful American lyricists alive and joining him on this continuing journey of finding his own sound is quite the ride.

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