Looking back over the history of music, you have a lot of artists who try incredibly hard to completely embody the appearance of the “rock star”. In the 60’s and 70’s it was sort of a hippie persona, in the 80’s it was the glam rocker persona, and in the 90’s it was the grunge persona. Of course this is definitely generalizing; however, it’s fair to say most decades have had general ways in which people expected their musicians to look. If I continue that generalization, I think I would say the 2000’s have brought on the tattooed, dark, mysterious musician. Tattoos definitely aren’t a stretch. When you make these generalization, you know you can’t talk in absolutes because there is always an artist, or group of artists, out there that go against the grain. Craig Finn is one of those artists.
Finn has been a staple in the underground “indie music” scene for years. Although his actual name may not be something that most people recognize right off the bat. Some people may know him better from his time in The Hold Steady and Lifter Puller. Let’s face it, Finn doesn’t look like your typical rock star. If anything, he probably fit a little better behind the genius bar at the Apple store. But, no matter what you think of his non-rockstar persona, you can’t deny that his voice is not only recognizable but also really great.
This is the first album Finn has put out on his own thus far, and he seems fairly comfortable with the undertaking. Finn has always managed to be the most recognizable factor in most of the bands he has been in. While the music always tends to be really good, his voice is typically what stands out as the most obvious component of whatever band he is a part of.
The most interesting aspect of this record for me is some of the lyrical content here. Craig Finn’s past records with other bands have landed on a variety of different topics; however, I would say this one seems to have a very religious theme that runs through out most of the record. I find it somewhat funny when Finn sang, “She was a real cool kisser, but she wasn’t all that strict of a Christian”, on “Stuck Between Stations” off Hold Steady’s “Boys and Girls in America”. Not that it’s a really anti-religious statement, but it doesn’t make it seem like being a Christian is a huge deal to Finn on that song either.
While none of the previous albums Finn has been a part of have screamed of religious themed music, it seems more like he found God or experienced a revival at some point during the recording of this album. On the song “Honolulu Blues” Finn sings out, “The cross reminds us that He died for me and you”. Really the whole song sounds like a tale of missionaries heading out to Hawaii to try to find coverts. Again, in “Western Pier” Finn reminds us how Christ is watching him right now. A lot of his songs remind the listener that God is always watching. Finally, the most blatant song that shows Finn’s interesting stretch into religion is “New Friend Jesus”. Although the rest of the album makes it seem like maybe he really does have a new friend, this song seems as if it should be performed at church camp. He continues to talk about his new friend though out most of the song, but the lyrics in the chorus do make me wonder if the conviction is true or not. Finn sings out, “I wish I was with Jesus when I met you, You’d be so impressed with me, You’d give yourself right up to me”. Having attended quite a few different camps like this before, I think it half was a way to pick up girls. However, as an adult, I’m not sure if Finn is referencing this childish issue or not. He actually alters the chorus further along in the song which may show the maturing of religious beliefs. Perhaps I’m just reading too deep into this song.
One thing I always like about how Finn writes songs is that he tends to tell a lot of stories and has a lot of down home Americana themes. Multiple songs on the album tell a story, and it really reminds me of a lot of different great early American artists. Without a doubt Bruce Springsteen is a big influence on him as a song writer. “Jackson” is a prime example of his story telling techniques. “Jackson” seems to tell the story of three friends who spend the summer together. Whatever happens, Jackson has a falling out with the rest of the group and our narrator refuses to answer questions about him. We hear a little bit about how he got discontent, but we don’t really get a true answer about how manages to disappear. His lyrics do the storyline a lot more justice.
The music overall is great, but it really takes a back seat to the lyrics and vocal styling of Finn. The music is really more there to complement Finn’s vocals and drive home some of his better qualities. With the Hold Steady, Finn manages to have a much more rock and roll quality. However, here he is able to show how he can do a lot more of his singer songwriter material and make it work with his voice.
There is definitely one song I manage to skip every single time it comes on. I always have my iPod on shuffle, so I don’t listen to the start of the album first every time. But, if you do listen to this album in the order of the tracks, just skip the first song on the album. “Apollo Bay” is a really droll song that never picks up. Finn doesn’t alter his voice at all the entire time, and the music never really picks up at all either. All around, I find it to be the least interesting song on the entire album.
If you’re a Hold Steady fan, I definitely recommend picking this album up. I am a big fan of Finn and all of his previous work, so I was really excited when this album came out. I may still prefer The Hold Steady in the end, but Finn has a great voice and still makes some great music here as well. Check it out! You’ll definitely be able to pick out a couple of songs you like even if you’re not a big fan of the whole album.
Teacher Grade: B