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Craig Finn: I Need A New War

review craig finn x1 cong

The song title is not a proclamation of bellicose intent but a lyric from a track about a man who is lost and simply needs a reason for getting his life back on track. That twist is typical of the songs and the approach of this album, which is both muscular and tender.

We listen a few times to any album before reading the sleeve notes, so avoid preconceptions. For this we kept thinking “sounds like The Hold Steady”. This is because Finn is in fact the lead singer of The Hold Steady. That explains that.

It’s a very fine lyric-driven album. Musically, it’s not much like The Hold Steady. While his voice is as robustly distinctive, the tunes are more reflective, though it’s cleverly arranged and there is a lot of instrumentation.

The first track is Blankets — an excellent song but misleading as, it sounds more upbeat than what follows. It’s typical in that it tells a story in few and simple words: “I met her at a racetrack / It was right before some concert … I moved her to Montana / We hung on for several summers / It got druggie and we crumbled / But still I never haven’t loved her.” What more do you need to know?

Reflecting on life’s failures, or at least reflecting on lessons hard learned, seems to be a theme, but all the songs tell a clear story.

Track two Magic Marker: “Later on we’d end up at that after hours house / With the guy who took the money / With a fish hook in his mouth / Pretty girls all burnin’ holes”. The narrator later does ““somethin’ kinda strange” but “made like sixteen grand”. Whatever it was, he doesn’t want to do it again.

Track three is the slower A Bathtub in the Kitchen. One line tells this story: “23 years is a while in a place with a bathtub in the kitchen,” the narrator always hoping something will turn up.

A standout is Grant at Galena, again a narrator struggling and hoping for good luck. “I couldn’t make the payments / So they sat there unopened … When I lose light for reading / I walk up to the mall.” This song gives the album its title, the narrator hoping luck will give him a reason to fight on.

Powerful stuff.


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