So sang Craig Finn on ‘Spinners‘, from The Hold Steady‘s fine sixth album ‘Teeth Dreams‘ recently, and it seems that he meant it, for ‘Faith In The Future‘ is full of empathy, sympathy and perhaps even pity from narrator to miscreant. He clearly has a lot of fondness for his own Frankenstein’s monster, and here we have a new set of characters who, while more than capable of carrying their own cinematic opus, do feel as though they could slot effortlessly into the world of The Hold Steady’s most recurrent protagonists. There are certainly several playful nods to aspects of our old friends’ psyches everywhere, anyway.
References, for example, to when “we watched the horses run up on each other“, allusions to religious imagery and premonitions – “lately I’ve been seeing things” – and, in ‘Sandra From Scranton‘, a richly embroidered characterisation of an ageing hippy so desperately fighting against her advancing years that she comes across as a rather tragic shell of a woman who could easily be the estranged aunt of Holly/Hallelujah.
That’s all well and good, of course, but the last thing I want to do is give the impression that Finn’s solo career is merely a mash-up of his band’s former glories; it isn’t. Rather, there are very sly glimmers of what I am sure makes up absolute musical utopia in the eyes of the Bostonian.
The heartfelt concern shown for ‘Sara, Calling From A Hotel‘, for instance, beckons comparison with Bright Eyes during Oberst’s commercial peak with ‘I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning‘ – “I’m a big fan“, Finn told me during our interview, confirming my suspicions – whereas the distant, otherworldly intro to ‘I Was Doing Fine (And Then A Few People Died)’ creates the same kind of nuance personified by The Beach Boys at the beginning of ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice?‘
Lyrically, as ever, Finn is as quotable as Withnail, a couple of my favourite fortune cookies being loaded with lines like “These are not the kind of cats you pet” in the rather majestic ‘Roman Guitars‘, all delayed percussion and horns like a late night stroll through neon-lit bars in a 1940s film noir, and “There are guys who’ll sell you tickets to a car crash” on the formidable but sparse arrangement of ‘Trapper Avenue‘.
The throbbing pulse of ‘Faith In The Future‘ though, is unquestionably located in the superb ‘Newmyer’s Roof‘, describing the moment Finn watched the towers going down on 9/11 from the summit of his friend’s house. You get the impression that he kind of perversely enjoyed the ugly spectacle, looking back on it not so much with misty-eyed reminiscence, but with incredulity at his ability, at that moment, to become emotionally detached from reality – “Yeah we were frightened/Yeah we were drinking/It was all so confusing” he sings conversationally, perhaps in an effort to make sense of it, all these years later.
Finn’s sardonic drawl on the thumping ‘Saint Peter Upside Down‘ is a dead ringer for Mark Knopfler on ‘Sultans Of Swing‘, with its galloping Northern Soul groove and colourful horn arrangement marking it up as the most commercial tune here, and not long afterwards, you’ll hear the disquietingly haunting ‘Christine‘. You’ll hear very few more beautiful songs this year.
Really, there is little need for Craig Finn to prove himself, just over a decade on from The Hold Steady’s first release, but prove himself he does, once again, and how. This is a real classy collection of songs by a true master of his craft.