Release Date: Sep 11, 2015
Record label: Partisan
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
On the face of it, the title of Craig Finn’s new solo album looks ironic. The Hold Steady singer specializes in characters that rarely see past right now, often while they’re busy recapping what sounds like a particularly vivid past. These 10 new songs are no exception, as Finn sings about people mired in circumstances grim enough that their faith would be seem to be misplaced in any vision of the future that isn’t bleak.
Craig Finn’s second solo set has been billed as his New York album, but the eternal Midwest transplant steers the looming dread and thin hope of these vivid strugglers' tales through Colorado, Pennsylvania, Arizona and other map-points en route to the Empire State. It's less about literal place than emotion, per usual, and the positivity here is more unsteady than on Finn's anthems with the Hold Steady. On "Maggie, I've Been Searching For Our Son," a believer recovering from a Branch Davidian-style siege seeks an alternative redemption.
There are songwriters, and there are storytellers. And, occasionally, they happen to be the same person. Suzanne Vega is one, Bruce Springsteen is certainly another. And, as anyone who’s ever heard an album by The Hold Steady can testify, Craig Finn is undoubtedly one of these polymaths. For ….
Craig Finn has never shied away from monumental themes in his work, and Faith In The Future doesn't offer any grand deviation from the formula that made him one of his generation's greatest songwriters. But where the Hold Steady's modus operandi is sweeping bar-rock grandiosity, Finn was able to dial the swagger back for Faith In The Future and replace it with nuance, subtlety; sonically, it allows him room to breathe, to let new characters and stories thrive in softer moments. No one conjures the weight of minutiae or makes microcosmic moments huge better than Finn.
Craig FinnFaith In The Future(Partisan)Rating: 4 stars out of 5 Craig Finn is better known as the lead singer of indie-rock heroes The Hold Steady. His new solo album, Faith In The Future, is the best thing he’s been a part of since THS’s 2008 standout Stay Positive. In the interim, he released two more Hold Steady albums that didn’t quite scale their previous heights and a solo album, 2012’s Clear Hearts Full Eyes, which seemed tentative.
Perhaps all Craig Finn needed was a slight change-of-scenery—his latest solo album is his best work since The Hold Steady's Stay Positive. Instead of chugging bar rock and singalongs, this album is filled with quiet moments and character studies. You've got the surreal 9/11 landscape of "Newmyer's Roof," the woman facing a boyfriend with a gun on "Sarah, Calling from a Hotel," and the various, desperate dwellers of "Trapper Avenue"—none of these folks would inspire a rock anthem, but they fit Finn's quiet chronicles here.
9/11 songs suck. They just do. “But what about Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising?” hollers one crowd member wearing a red, white, and blue bandanna. Alright, I’ll give you that, but even The Rising comes piled high with filler that only gets outshone because the bright spots are so damn bright and its creator’s intentions were just what the country needed at the time.
The Hold Steady inspire devoted and committed fans, organised loosely under the name of the Unified Scene. The band have a back catalog of dense and complex records with their own mythology through re-occurring characters and themes. For the clueless or the curious, there’s a fan Wiki website mapping it out. Lead singer Craig Finn is responsible for infusing much of the passion, but the band’s sound and ethos is distinctly a communal effort, making any solo release a tricky proposition.
Craig Finn has always had the potential to be the Bizarro World version of Bruce Springsteen, spinning tales of earnest heartland folks whose obsessions are loopy but sincere variations of the thematic triumvirate of fast cars, low-budget romance, and middle-class survival that has been the Boss' trademark for decades. Finn's melodies even conjure up an approximation of the melodramatic grandeur of Springsteen's music, though without the emphatic charge of the E-Street Band; if Springsteen's work is hi-def programming viewed on a 60-inch flat screen, Finn's is more like a slightly worn VHS tape viewed on a TV that was rescued from a junk shop, though there are shows that work better that way, seen through a prism of homey distortion. All these things come to mind while listening to Faith in the Future, the second solo album from the Hold Steady's frontman, which gives him more room to explore his themes as an enlightened bar-band troubadour, and if the noisy sideways guitar solos on "Maggie I've Been Searching for Our Son" and "Going to a Show," the clanking lockstep drums on "Roman Guitars," and the woozy slide guitar on "St.
Through his work first with Lifter Puller, then with the Hold Steady, and later as a solo artist, Craig Finn has created a universe as big as America, a stage that stretches from Minneapolis to Ybor City, from the bars of Chicago to behind bars in Memphis. It’s a world populated by hoodrats and club kids, by dealers and party girls, by guys who look like André Cymone and women named Robbie Robertson ("but people call me Robo"), by the financially desperate and the spiritually confused. Each new song and each new album expands that universe significantly, implicitly or explicitly adding new chapters to ongoing stories as Finn hangs out off to the side, narrating from the periphery of the scene.
So full of varied characters is Faith in the Future that listening to its tracks in succession feels like peering into the rooms of a 10-storey tower block. Written after his mother’s death, the Hold Steady frontman’s second solo venture is laden with existentialism and quiet consideration. His empathetic songwriting evokes in great detail his varied subjects’ emotions, from the lonely 40-something prepping himself for a gig on Going to a Show (“I try so hard not to talk to myself but it’s hard cos I’m always alone”); a science professor surrounded by diagrams on Roman Guitars; a longing, lovesick fool on Christine; the numb, overly medicated Sandra from Scranton.
It’s time to pay attention to Craig Finn, who made his mark as the frontman with the Hold Steady — an infectious, Replacements-style rock act from New York — but really steps up on his own. Finn’s second solo album is packed with songs rich in street intelligence and wry humor; his voice has a similar timbre to Bruce Springsteen’s, and some tracks here evoke the talk-singing days of Springsteen’s first two albums. Finn’s keen powers of observation light up the metaphorical “Maggie I’ve Been Searching for Our Son,” the horn-stoked “Saint Peter Upside Down,” and the startling “Newmeyer’s Roof,” about watching the towers fall on 9/11 while sitting on a friend’s roof drinking beer.
Last year, Craig Finn wrote a piece for Men’s Journal (admittedly: not something I usually read) about his favorite dive bar, the Uptown in Minneapolis. As a fan of both the author and his subject, I read this story of Finn’s very early adulthood—on the cusp of twenty-one, haunting the Uptown, and taking in the scene—with awe. The article reads like a long-form version of one of his songs: Finn, ever the outsider, immerses himself in a world of music and drinking and aging “rock and roll people,” not quite in the scene but not quite separate from it.
Springsteen had “Wendy,” “Rosie,” “Sandy” and “Rosalita” (and that’s just pulling songs from the first few records); and Craig Finn has “Maggie,” “Sarah,” “Sandra” and “Christine. ” While there is clearly a law that every mention of Finn or his band The Hold Steady has to be paired with a reference to Springsteen, the fact that four out of 10 songs off Finn’s second solo effort have women’s names in the title made this exercise that much more easier. That’s not to say Faith in the Future is a poor man’s Springsteen record, it happens to be a pretty solid affair, it’s just that like the Boss, like Dylan before them both, Finn has mastered the art of unraveling a detailed and compelling story in the form of three-minute songs.