Craig Finn – 'Clear Heart, Full Eyes' (UK Release: 23 Jan '12) // Words: Simon Opie
The Hold Steady are a relentlessly old fashioned band and this horribly titled solo album by front man Craig Finn is a similarly old school effort. Most people use solo albums to expand their horizons, but this is an album of demos, designed to show what The Hold Steady might sound like if they were a country rock band.
Opener ‘Apollo Bay’ is probably the best track and is atmospherically related to the opener from the last Hold Steady album, 'The Sweet Part Of The City', which makes it an okay listen. Thereafter the album descends into a mawkish soft country hotchpotch masterminded by producer Mike McCarthy, with the better songs sounding like they’d be a lot better if they’d been played by The Hold Steady (‘Jackson’, 'Honolulu Blues’).
Lyrically there are some nice touches, mostly on religious or drug-taking themes but the immaculate conception of ‘Separation Sunday’ seems a long way away. I wish I liked the album more cos I really did like The Hold Steady back in the day, and I can’t help musing on what went astray. Don’t get me wrong, this is not about fashionable or not – rock music is never going to be in fashion as things stand, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have something to say and explore new areas even on its own terms.
That’s precisely what made The Hold Steady and Craig Finn in particular so uplifting when they broke onto the scene – anarchic live shows, great narratives told with endearing slackness and some neat Anthemic touches. A breath of fresh air – even an old school influenced one – can be very enervating. I think two principles emerge – don’t get discovered by the mainstream and don’t take singing lessons, if your essential appeal is around rough edges and an outsiders view.
'Clear Heart, Full Eyes' is available to purchase from iTunes, Amazon etc.