Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Craig Finn digs deep into his personal history for a poetic masterclass

"We all Want the Same Things"

Release date: 24 March 2017
Craig Finn We All Want The Same Things
04 April 2017, 15:39 Written by Michael James Hall
Craig Finn’s tenure as the unconventional and shamanic leader of the ultimate little bar band that could, The Hold Steady, has been interspersed over recent years with sojourns into solo territory that have yielded mixed results.

The low-key strum of 2012’s Clear Heart Full Eyes was well-earned respite from the cacophonous rock of his day job while 2015’s Faith in the Future was a sophisticated, subdued record that perhaps allowed the wheels to drift too close to the middle of the road at times.

On We all Want the Same Things (titled for a line on the record but also selected for its ironic political relevance) we’re hearing Finn tighten and hone his lyrical craft; his narratives are stronger, more pointed, yet the world he creates is as vivid and evocative as that which he’s spun across the finest of The Hold Steady’s output.

There’s nothing here musically that will exhilarate or energise the way a "Sequestered In Memphis", "Stuck Between Stations" or "Positive Jam" surely did, nothing you’re likely to be spilling your whiskey to at the front of a sweat-soaked pit - but that’s kinda the point.

Although here Finn is, at times, looking back at his young, chaotic life way back in 1994, detailing the fallouts and fallbacks of wasted university years and drug fun that went too far, it’s a sober record; a finely moulded one that sees Finn’s poetry presented across a set of songs that, instrumentally, are there to illuminate the words, convey the myriad complex emotions - highlight the moments when all our empathy and sympathy falls together, fired by a classic Finn couplet.

Finn’s themes are consistent - God, drugs, love, friendship…you know, the big stuff. And he deals with it beautifully and humbly by detailing the nuances and seemingly trivial moments in personal interaction - there’s few better at weaving a narrative steeped in specificity that swiftly transforms into an immensely relatable microcosm. Finn’s eye is always on the small gesture, the passing moment - he’s rarely given to the broad sweep.

What strikes most soundly here is the song at the heart of the record, a spoken word piece called "God In Chicago" that describes a trip to the city with the grieving sister of a dealer friend to unload the last of his gear (“There’s unfinished business / It’s roughly the size of a baseball”) that brings the characters together through alcohol and sex (“we both want the same things / We all want the same things” Finn reasons) before abandoning them, back home, to deal with a lifetime of grief. This is Finn at his absolute finest, every beat perfectly delivered, a small, sad tale that allows the light of hope in once in a while but folds at the sight of reality. It’s as close to a Raymond Carver short story as a modern songwriter can get.

Directly following this is "Rescue Blues", a tale of a relationship of convenience that just may have more to it than would first appear (“seems pretty pure to me” Finn notes) and elsewhere lay the Springsteen 70s radio vibes of "Tangletown" and its contrasting leads, both lost to different kinds of damage; the Tom Petty strum of "Ninety Bucks" that surprises with a Paul Simon-like harmonised chorus from out of nowhere and the throwaway E Street explosion of "Tracking Shots".

Finn summarises his clever, heartfelt approach on closer "Be Honest", which first offers the hilarious “It really sucks getting sick on the bus / It’s even worse when the teenagers cheer”, then the immeasurably relatable “The lust burns off into handshakes and hugs” before finally opening out into the wider world, yet never losing sight of the personal with “If revolution’s really coming then we all need to be well / So maybe it’s best if we both take care of ourselves.”

Finn has created a great album here, horn-drenched and hazy in its instrumentation, precise, prescient and poetic in its words. He’s becoming an elder statesman of rock n’ roll the right way - sharpening his tools, tempering the volume, continuing to illuminate truth in ever more personal and profound ways.

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