If you thought Craig Finn could get wordy with his Hold Steady band mates behind him wait until you get him alone on Clear Heart Full Eyes and his cinematic tendencies aren’t under any restraints. Songs roll out like screenplays, painting scenes while exposing fans to new train wrecks like “Jackson” and rallying around subway rides to Maine while being exposed to the “Honolulu Blues”. The stark mood pieces like “Western Pier” are skeleton structures that Finn fattens up with his wordplay over guitar squiggles and key bleeps, placing the listener directly in these troublesome worlds.
The current Brooklyn-ite from Minneapolis has another musical city flowing through his first solo album: Austin, TX. Musically everything is scaled back; there is bleakness in both the lyrics and the music that gets punctured by a steel guitar line or key run which calls to mind the southern weird locale’s aesthetic. “Terrified Eyes” and “Apollo Bay” are unique tracks but two that scream Austin as producer Mike McCarthy and the city has an obvious hand in the proceedings, but the real centerpiece is Finn’s lyrics.
Without the arena ready riffs of his Hold Steady partner in crime Tad Kubler things just aren’t that rosy. Finn hasn’t changed what he writes about: loners, drifters, classic rock records, and Jesus. It is just that flicker of redemption is missing here, as things aren’t always going to turn out fine. OK, maybe the Jesus stuff gets amped more here as the twangy “New Friend Jesus” would sound hokey coming from someone else, but surprisingly wholesome when Finn addresses faith.
A few tracks sound like they would explode in the group setting (“No Future” in particular) but Finn seems to have broken away from his sing-a-long songs with a collection of quieter, darker works of art that could each be extended into short stories or a killer film noir.