Craig Finn’s solo career has been running parallel to the Hold Steady quite nicely over the last few years, with him being able to take a more introspective musical approach as opposed to the amped up bar band rock and roll of his band. Lyrically it’s much more difficult to find the line between what Finn writes for his solo career, and what he writes for the Hold Steady. This is particularly evident on “Blankets”, the opening track on I Need a New War, and its closer “Ann Mare and Shane”, two songs where it genuinely sounds like Finn is recycling lyrics from the last three Hold Steady albums. Now normally this would be a bad thing, however when you consider that Finn is the sort of lyricist who won’t write two lines when just repeating one really good line will be much more effective – something he did to great effect on Hold Steady’s debut, Almost Killed Me.
Finn’s lyrical allusions to other songs he has previously written actually works well in that it binds his solo career closely with his work with the Hold Steady. Whereas most band members going solo do so to gain a bit more creative freedom, for Finn it seems as if it simply is down to the fact that he feels that his latest set of songs would benefit from a slightly different sonic approach from The Hold Steady’s rock and roll. I Need a New War is generally a mid to slow-tempo album, something which The Hold Steady can pull off well enough a couple of times on an album, but just wouldn’t suit them if the whole album was like that. It’s therefore tempting to imagine Finn recording two demos for each song he pens, and adding them to the Hold Steady or solo career piles, depending on which version he feels works best.
So where does I Need a New War fit in in the grand scheme of Finn’s solo career? Pretty neatly actually, given that it has been uniformly pretty good up to now. With its liberal use of female backing vocals, backing brass and gently wheezing keyboards, I Need a New War is a mature and classy affair, despite Finn’s reliably untutored vocal stylings which sounds more like he’s talking in tune rather than actually singing. The thing is, if you haven’t been wowed by Finn’s solo career up to now, chances are you’re not going to be convinced by I Need a New War. Having said that, if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard by Finn before, then you’l be pleased to know that it’s business as usual on I Need a New War. Sometimes, it’s just nice to be able to rely on an artist.
Craig Finn remains one of the most evocative writers of narrative lyrics operating today. Whether he’s penning the more downbeat numbers like those on I Need a New War, or if he’s rocking out with The Hold Steady, he’s consistently great at what he does. Not everyone who loves The Hold Steady will love Finn’s less rock and roll solo career. Equally, if you find The Hold Steady’s brand or rock and roll isn’t your thing, then you might actually be pleasantly surprised at Finn’s solo career. Personally I hope that Craig Finn continues with this parallel solo career lark, as he’s quietly making a pleasing string of albums.
I need a New war is released 26 April on Partisan Records.