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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | December 16, 2019

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Review: Craig Finn- Faith in the Future

Review: Craig Finn-  Faith in the Future

| On 26, Sep 2015

On his sophomore solo album, Craig Finn has stripped away the noise and grandiosity that’s defined most of his career, revealing the core components of his distinctive lyrical style while telling tender, grounded stories.

As the frontman of the self-proclaimed “greatest bar band” The Hold Steady, Craig Finn has for eleven years told alternatively complex stories about junkees and burnouts. The Hold Steady’s unironic rock maximalism can at it’s best be breathtaking, but it has forced the 44 year old singer to write lyrics that suit the music’s level of high drama. In Faith In the Future, Finn uses elegant alt-country arrangements to tell more intimate stories. The usual  themes are all present; God, transcendence, struggle, drugs and self destruction, but instead of breakneck narratives revolving around parties and overdoses he zeros in how darkness can descend in a quieter way. This time out he’s more like John Cassavetes than Quentin Tarantino, telling stories of quiet despair while somehow remaining hopeful.

The album opens with what might be it’s strongest song (and best title), Maggie I’ve Been Searching For Our Son. Over a galloping beat Finn sings as a man looking back on his life with regret and a desperate faith. It’s about a guy who lived in a militarized desert cult, but Finn downplays the more lurid elements, allowing the gaps in the narrative to leave a disconcerting void for the listener.

Roman Guitars finds Finn slightly closer to Hold Steady mode, opening with concrete, evocative imagery “The pigs all stormed the Bennigans/The band played Touch My Stuff again” before moving to the transcendent, “All your little molecules/Add up to something beautiful”. But it’s notably guitar-less, driven instead by piano and a small horn section that lend an uplifting quality to many of the album’s tracks.

The band itself (led by producer Josh Kaufman) services the album’s narratives with style and grace, letting the words guide each individual song’s direction. They create an album that is far more cohesive than Finn’s solo debut, 2012’s Clear Heart Full Eyes, moving confidently from foot stamping marches to delicate country ballads.

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Finn’s characters will often evade the truth or struggle to find meaning, like in Sarah, Calling From a Hotel. The protagonist admits he’s “Not sure why she called” and that “I heard that she cleaned up/Then I also heard she didn’t”. He tries to find some closure, but instead is left with an upsetting phone call from a former lover ending with the words “Oh God, I gotta go/He’s got a gun.” It’s simultaneously powerful and understated, allowing the listener a brief look into a complex character without offering any easy answers.

In the album’s driving centerpiece, St. Peter Upside Down, Finn mentions a girl who he met “In 1999 up in Windows On the World”, before continuing his story of betrayal and self-preservation. It’d be an easy detail to miss, but it’s worth noting that Windows On the World was located in the Twin Towers. What that means to the character or the narrative is hard to discern, but it’s a telling detail given that this is an album about people recovering from tragedy and struggling to resist the darkness year after year. The struggle to not get lost in the pains of the past and have faith in things to come.