In late 2007 I encountered an album that saw me regain my faith in rock music. With its cranked up guitars, big choruses and quick-fire repeated lyrics, that album was Almost Killed Me by The Hold Steady. In a matter of weeks I had bought all three of the albums they had released up to that point and each one was a minor masterpiece in its own right. Much of my high regard for The Hold Steady could be put down to singer and lyricist Craig Finn, whose imperfect voice and way with a narrative lyric are vital elements of the Hold Steady sound. The thing was, when Finn started out his solo career with 2013’s Clear Heart, Full Eyes, I didn’t check it out. Why? Because I couldn’t imagine how it would work without The Hold Steady’s patented bar band rocking and frankly, I thought their quality control had dipped in recent years. Then a few weeks ago, I was asked if I fancied reviewing Finn’s third solo album (I hadn’t even realised there had been a second), and realising that I had become something a lapsed fan, I decided it was time to re-acquaint myself with one of my favourite singers and lyricists.
So where does We All Want the Same Things find Craig Finn? Playing to his strengths. Finn’s ability with a great narrative has always remained strong, even beyond the Hold Steady’s opening trio of near-flawless albums. It’s just what he does, and just to prove me utterly wrong, the lower octane delivery away from The Hold Steady’s rock and roll heroics allows him to deliver something a little different, but immediately identifiable as Craig Finn. Much like an artist known for working primarily in one medium, switch to demonstrate their range, Finn uses the less frenetic sound of We All Want the Same Things to show that he doesn’t always need over-cranked guitars, big choruses and swirling organ to deliver a great song.
While We All Want the Same Things may not be the best place for people discovering Craig Finn / The Hold Steady for the first time, for those already aware of his work, it adds depth to his career. While songs like “God in Chicago”, “Preludes” and “It Hits When it Hits” on paper are Hold Steady songs in waiting, the more subtle approach on We All Want the Same Things work in their favour. Hell there’s even space for a little bit of a jazzy skronk here and there, which given Finn’s self-admitted fixation with Bruce Springsteen, it could be seen as his vague nod to The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.
So will We All Want the Same Things appeal to the lapsed Hold Steady fan? If you approach it with an open mind, then there’s every chance that it may restore your faith, but at the end of the day that’s not its intention. There is a distinct delineation between Craig Finn’s solo career and that of his band. We All Want the Same Things has its own identity, and it’s even prompted me to investigate the rest of Finn’s solo output. Job done.