This Craig Finn article was written by Nick Holden, a GIGsoup contributor
Stepping away from the boisterous big night parties, girlfriends that can tell the future, and other college antics and social digressions that formed the substance of his lyricism, Craig Finn, in his second solo album, adopts a more intimate approach at life.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts and raised in Minnesota, Craig modestly boasts a relatively long history of delving into contemporary American culture, both in musical influence and in literary consciousness. He is the founding member and frontman of Lifter Puller, where at he established his interest in the nostalgic life of drug addiction and neon drenched night clubs in and around Minneapolis and Boston. Then he went on to form The Hold Steady – a jingle jangle of melodic optimism, catchy riffs and booming, conversational, not so optimistic lyricism. And now Finn returns with his latest endeavour, ‘Faith in the Future.’
A cursory glance at this album shows a lack of coherence, either in conjunction between tracks by way of narrative or in melodic disposition. Each track stands alone as self-contained stories, from a nostalgic echo of drum and distorted horns (‘Maggie I’ve Been Searching For Our Son’) to gentle guitar riffs and backing vocals (Christine). These episodes are connected only by Craig’s familiar themes of loneliness, girls and unfulfilled love which seethes through every track.
Other casual names crop up, often underpinned with an intimate necessity, as if their place in the album is now, more than ever crucial. Take the track ‘Christine,’ “Christine reads magazines/New York. Los Angeles. London/Everyone wants something/I just want Christine.” He doesn’t so much reach out toward the contemporary cliché of sentimentality, since there is no exaggeration here, just a kind of 14-year-old raw honesty that aged with Craig.
Also returning is a new set of bizarre yet somehow distantly familiar characters—most prominently a drug dealer named Doubting Thomas. Craig treads familiar ground in terms of subject matter. But this time, he discards the upbeat rock ‘n roll jingles that we loved in The Hold Steady records like ‘Boys and Girls in America’ for a personal, downbeat perhaps closer to home approach. It’s cathartic, yet from an intimately spiritual – rather than aggressive – light.
The opening track, perhaps enduringly provocative in terms of powerful imagery, is ‘Maggie I’ve Been Searching For Our Son,’ the title of which is mournfully repeated over and over between sharply morbid references to disturbed and degraded youths, “A kid went to the movies with a gun,” and “There were handcuffed girls with barely any clothes.”
Yet Finn’s more lyrically grounded reflections and atmospherically interchangeable melodies surpasses indie rock’s clichéd approach to dismal parodies of human nature, by his ability to adapt his non-linear narratives to transcend established preconceptions of events such as 9/11. This might be by throwing characters like Doubting Thomas into the equation, or a quasi-religious reference to Simon Peter. Suitably indicative of a musician/story teller in the business for over ten years, Craig handles this steaming broth of original characters, semi religious references, and dangerously familiar terrain of subject matter such as 9/11 with wonderful craftsmanship.
It would be unfair to review this latest work without bringing up 9/11 because it incessantly defines the mood of ‘Faith in the Future.’ It might be unconscious on the most part, but it hangs over the record nevertheless. So it’s 14 years later, and Craig’s decision to sing about 9/11 now rather than back then is possibly a jarringly daring undertaking. Stepping away from previous post-9/11 song writing in reaction to the tragedy that changed America forever, from a patriotic aggression and waves of heart-broken grief, Finn waited 14 years to tell his story.
And now we know why he would address these themes sooner or later. Over the course of those 14 years, Craig demonstrates in this album an interesting new outlook on society with an imbuement of melancholic maturity. There’s no political aggression in this song, but he rather handles the subject matter with intimately personal retrospect, through his peripheral Hold Steady-esque viewpoint: “I saw the towers go down/From up on Newmyer’s roof/Yeah we were frightened/Yeah we were drinking /It was all so confusing” in ‘Newmyer’s Roof.’
It’s sad, it’s horrible. But Craig’s almost conversational lyricism, weaves a harsh acceptance into the fabric of American society and culture, where sadly, we have to just say “it happened.” It would be wrong to call this a fresh approach in ‘Faith in the Future,’ but it raises those pre-established issues on terrorism with a certain element of maturity and growth. And that’s what makes ‘Faith in the Future’ so diverse and beautiful.
Additionally, the new darker, personal atmospherics and lyricism juxtaposed with a string of very American daily struggles of love and loss provides a fresh milestone in Craig’s career.
To say that Craig Finn adds new flavour to the genre is an overstretch, but he boldly covers new ground here, on an intimate level, for those who listen carefully.
‘Faith in the Future’ is out now via Partisan Records.