Right from the outset it is obvious that Faith In The Future has a pared-down sound that is not too far removed from the straight up bar band rock of The Hold Steady in style, yet very different in execution. Craig Finn’s statement in support of the album announcement explained that “some of these songs are more mundane, with minor slices of life that wouldn’t best be supported by the hugeness of a rock group.” You can hear throughout the album that this is a more delicate affair with a sound and production that provides more space around Finn’s lyrics, which ultimately allows the listener to get to the heart of his stories of the everyman that have become his trademark.
The opener ‘Maggie I’ve Been Searching For Our Son’ starts off the record as it means to go on with a strumming acoustic guitar and piano driven piece of Americana that places Finn’s vocals front and centre. This spacey sound gives Finn’s words a greater weight and prevents his vocals from getting lost in the beefier sound of a full rock band.
One of the highlights of the album and easily one of Finn’s best songs so far comes from the leading single ‘Newmyer’s Roof’. Lyrically this a perfect example of Finn’s ability to write a story which listeners can instantly connect to. The song describes how he and friends watched the World Trade Center fall from a friend’s rooftop and the key lyric – “Yeah we were frightened/ Yeah we were drinking, it was all so confusing” – portrays perfectly how these characters that populate Finn’s world get through their hardships and move on.
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‘Sarah, Calling From A Hotel’ follows with a delicately finger-picked guitar that calls back to ‘Citrus’ off The Hold Steady’s classic Boys And Girls In America. Here we get an insight into an ex-lover who calls out of the blue, to then end the conversation with the devastating line “Here he comes/Oh God I gotta go”. Both ‘Sarah…’ and ‘Christine’ are two affectionate songs that contain incredibly insightful portraits of these two characters. It is this gift that shows why Finn is becoming an increasingly important lyricist.
The strength of the album lies in the final stretch, which fully cements the ten tracks as an artistic statement. The stomp of the Wilco-esque ‘Saint Peter Upside Down’ indicates that Finn’s vocals are getting smoother and again moving further away from the talk-sing style of the early Hold Steady records. The aforementioned ‘Christine’ is a beautiful yet simple acoustic song with a chorus that I could picture The National’s Matt Berninger singing – “Christine reads magazines/ New York, Los Angeles, London/ Everyone wants something/ I just want Christine”. ‘I Was Doing Fine (Then A Few People Died)’ closes out the album as another Americana number that is again up there as one of the best songs he’s written, with only the one complaint that it fades out too quickly and could easily have fitted another verse.
Faith In The Future is another strong album full of wonderfully written stories from an incredibly reliable songwriter. Only two songs in the middle of the album slightly miss the mark (‘Going To A Show’, ‘Sandra From Scranton’) and this prevents it from being a really great album. Much like Brian Fallon’s (The Gaslight Anthem) project The Horrible Crowes, Finn’s solo album highlights a versatile songwriter who is able to change his sound when the songs require it. If you hadn’t already considered Finn as one of best 21st Century American songwriters, alongside the likes of Ryan Adams and Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), then this record will make him a serious contender.
‘Faith In The Future’ is out on the 11th September 2015, via Partisan Records