Craig Finn - Clear Heart Full Eyes
Release Date: January 24, 2012
Record Label: Vagrant Records
For more than a decade, Craig Finn has been putting out albums rich with character driven stories and bar band music. Whether it be through his first band, Lifter Puller, or his current one, The Hold Steady, the ideas remain the same: Parties, Drinking, Drugs, Religion, and Redemption. And most of this holds true for the singer’s first solo outing Clear Hearts Full Eyes. Except for maybe the redemption part.
While most songs from The Hold Steady’s catalog leave some room for hope for the characters, Finn seems much less optimistic this time around. The opening song “Apollo Bay” is uneasy from the start, and things start to take a turn to the heavier side by the end as he sings, “All twelve apostles were convinced that they were walking with their savior”, hitting the religious themes early on.
“When No One’s Watching” is a much more upbeat song, but things quickly retreat with “No Future”. When Finn says “Pretty sure we’re all gonna die”, you can’t help but feel things are going to end badly. This is followed once again with an upbeat song, “New Friend Jesus”, which also is one of the weaker tracks on the album. The usual repetitive lyric style that works so well for The Hold Steady comes up a bit empty here.
Thankfully, this is followed by what I believe to be the strongest song on the album, and one with the sort of lyrics that will make the fans of Finn’s other band smile. The song, “Jackson”, tells the story of a few friends growing up, and how we tend to lose touch with them as we get older. We’ve got characters with deep-seeded issues, and the story to go along with it. And with lines like, “The sirens came behind us, it was a bit before we heard it/It was Jackson, Me, and Stephanie and for a while it felt just perfect”, Finn takes the listener right back with him.
The rest of the album is full of alt-country tracks, some of which work great (“Honolulu Blues”, “Rented Room”), and others that fall a little flat (“Terrified Eyes”, “Balcony”). The album wraps up nicely with “Nothing Left Of Us”, an album closer that matches up with The Hold Steady’s reputation for incredible closing songs.
It’s impossible to review an album for a solo project without comparing it to the singer’s other band, which probably isn’t fair to Craig Finn. With Clear Heart Full Eyes, Finn crafts a pretty good album that fans of The Hold Steady can find something to like, and others may find easier to get into than the band. While the vocals and the lyrics are what we’ve come to expect for the most part, the instrumentation leaves something to be desired in some places. Not an incredible album, but good enough to tide us over until the next full-length from The Hold Steady.