Release Date: Jan 24, 2012
Record label: Vagrant
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
In five stellar LPs as the word-spluttering frontman for the Hold Steady, Craig Finn proved that nobody can match his ear for the way American losers talk. And in a Finn song, they're usually talking themselves into their next doomed move. Cut with a country-rock pickup band, his first solo album is full of bleakly funny noir tales. His characters are like the psycho-eyes loners from On the Beach or Nebraska, except strung out on religion.
There’s a pejorative connotation to the phrase “genre piece,” but there shouldn’t be. Beneath the phrase is the same elitist line-drawing that lies behind the literary versus non-literary fiction fiction. Frankenstein is a zombie novel; Treasure Island is a pirate story. My favorite Pynchon novels are Inherent Vice and Mason & Dixon, which, like so-called commercial fiction, are exciting in the way that they toy with the narrative conventions of detective and adventure genres respectively, and their literary merit is enhanced rather than undermined by the fact that a playful acceptance and subversion of those conventions defines the books’ style.
The Hold Steady man impresses on his solo outing... “There’s something in how well you tell the story” asserts The Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn on ‘Clear Heart Full Eyes’’ second track ‘When No One’s Watching’, and he should know. Unquestionably one of the finest lyricists of his generation (don't argue with that, just give THS’ ‘Boys And Girls In America’ another spin), this record is the result of Finn turning his hand to songwriting for the very first time and, yes, he’s nailed it.
Craig FinnClear Heart Full Eyes[Vagrant; 2012]By Philip Cosores; January 25, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetFrom the misadventures of Holly, Charlemagne, and Gideon on Separation Sunday to their treatise on Boys And Girls In America, The Hold Steady has long been defined by singing songs for and about the American youth, something that was always curious but never suspect when you consider that Craig Finn, the band's principle songwriter, was in his mid-30s for the band's creative peaks. Now 40, Finn has recorded his first solo album in Austin, Texas with the help of members of White Denim, Heartless Bastards, Phosphorescent, and Centro-matic, as well as producer Mike McCarthy. The result is a more mature sound with more mature revelations, an outfit that looks good on Finn, proving him to more than just the singer for the world's best bar band.
I’ll be honest: I love The Hold Steady, but I can’t always tell that much difference from one song to the next. It’s the same formula, right? Raucous, unashamed classic rock, orated by a vaguely nerdy, extremely verbose frontman. But the fact that they’ve put out five critically-acclaimed albums is a testament to just how good that formula is - one that they can truly call their own.
Review Summary: . . .
Before press surrounding Craig Finn’s first solo album Clear Heart Full Eyes confirmed it, the Friday Night Lights fans among you probably noticed the juxtaposed reference to the Panthers’ team motto: “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.” It’s absolutely not surprising that Craig Finn is a huge fan of the show; like Friday Night Lights, Finn has compiled an insightful catalogue exploring the thrills and sadness endemic to a certain place. With rhe Hold Steady, Finn became the Poet Laureate of the Townies, opening us up to what it meant to be young, confused, and/or strung out in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Ybor City, and various towns lining the Mississippi River.
With some time off from The Hold Steady, Craig Finn did what writers do when they have songs that don’t fit their band’s sound: he made a solo record. Clear Heart Full Eyes, an album title more sincere than it might appear, features many of the same themes and imagery that Finn might supply for his main outlet, but it’s not a redundant listen. The songs aren’t so much castoff trinkets as cuts that genuinely wouldn’t have fit, and they add a new dimension to Finn’s recordings.
After five albums with [a]The Hold Steady[/a], [a]Craig Finn[/a] has stepped away from the Brooklyn bar-room rockers for his first solo effort. With his distinctive drawl, it’s difficult to listen to ‘Clear Heart Full Eyes’ and hear anything but another Hold Steady album, but Finn certainly takes a paddle – if not quite a dive – into fresh sonic waters. There are impressive flirtations with melancholia (‘Western Pier’, ‘Not Much Left Of Us’) and the slow shuffle of ‘Apollo Bay’, a prog take on Smog’s reflective groove.
"Good ol' Freddie Mercury is the only guy that advises me," Craig Finn sings on "No Future", from his first solo album, Clear Heart Full Eyes. Later in the same song, he calls out another 1970s rock icon: "The best advice I've ever gotten was from good ol' Johnny Rotten," he confesses, before launching into a few lines from "God Save the Queen". As rock touchstones go, Queen and the Sex Pistols aren't too far off the beaten path; he could have quoted Alex Chilton or Damo Suzuki or even Elvis Costello, but that would miss the point.
"The Hold Steady is celebratory, but I don't feel that way 100% of the time. I'm a human being." Craig Finn, January 2012 Anyone approaching Craig Finn’s first solo outing with Hold Steady-associated expectations should do so with trepidation; while there are similarities between band proper and frontman as a lone gun, they are at best limited. Despite the heads up from Finn himself this can’t help but come as a slight shock, particularly for someone who would put two, maybe even three Hold Steady songs on his Greatest 4am Shoutalong Anthems Ever playlist.
Craig Finn is the frontman of the Hold Steady, the connoisseur's single malt of US rock bands, on his debut solo outing. Steady loyalists are bound to miss the band's emotive clangour, but Clear Heart finds valid new arrangements for Finn's addictive storytelling. Country rock serves as a default, but the oblique dread in "Apollo Bay" chimes with the track's needling steel guitar, and Finn's quiet demolition of a bad'un on "When No One's Watching" gains from the song's swing.
If you’ve seen Craig Finn on stage with the Hold Steady, you know he’s a pretty excitable guy. He gets so worked up – that beaming smile playing across his face – that he often forgets to play his guitar, preferring to clap double-time through whatever song the band may be knocking out. It’s fitting zeal for his band’s music, with all its beer-sloshing, trad-rock glory, but on his first solo record, Clear Heart Full Eyes, that unbridled energy is decidedly muted.
It’s no secret that Friday Night Lights was a big influence on Craig Finn when he recorded his first solo record, Clear Heart Full Eyes (just look at the playfully inverted title). But while both TV series and album plant their roots firmly in the state of Texas, the similarities end there. You’re more likely to experience the emotional wallop of the show while listening to Finn’s most famous creative venture, The Hold Steady.
If you ever wondered what Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn would do if freed from the constrictions of his celebrated pub rock indie band, the answer is a quieter, more atmospheric Hold Steady record. It will matter to those who already appreciate what Finn and the Hold Steady are all about, but Clear Heart Full Eyes isn't likely to bring any new guests to the party. Finn cut the record in Austin with players selected by producer Mike McCarthy, who's worked with Spoon and Trail of Dead.
CRAIG FINN has always been a religious guy. He sees God as just but also notices that he has a wicked sense of humor. The barflies, losers and knock-around guys that he writes about in the songs for his band, the Hold Steady, often end up on their knees, sometimes retching, but more often praying for that moment when everything both aligns and goes off the rails at the same time.
The Hold Steady frontman unveils debut solo album. Ian Winwood 2012 Craig Finn describes himself as the kind of writer who sits in the back seat of the car driven by his characters, taking notes. For the sake of his sanity and general health, this is doubtless a good thing. On Lord, I’m Discouraged, a song from The Hold Steady’s 2008 album Stay Positive, the Minnesota-born resident of Brooklyn profiles an unrequited love whose life is sliding into the despair of drug addiction.
The Hold Steady have spent the last decade being the greatest underdog bar band since The Replacements – charging drunk at stages, lighting fuses on vinyl, always aflame, always living and playing at full pelt. Even when it may have felt they were preaching drugs and break-ups and Catholic guilt/redemption to the converted they still attacked it like veritable classic rock hellhounds. On Clear Heart Full Eyes Finn, the literary shaman of the club scene, takes a step back from the raucous rock sound of his fulltime band, sits to one side on the stage of haphazard disaster and desire that infect the lives of his characters, cleans his glasses on his shirt sleeve, nods and quietly observes.