“It’s hard to suck with Jesus in your band” - Craig Finn, from the song "My Friend Jesus"
While truer words may never have been spoken, it’s a shame that Hold Steady singer Craig Finn didn’t seek out a little more divine inspiration when making his debut solo record, Clear Eyes Full Heart.
While hardcore Hold Steady fans are sure to find something to love, the truth of the matter is that Clear Eyes, Full Heart comes off as a half-assed attempt at a meaningful record, failing to engage, or really ever connect, on any level with the listener. In recent interviews Finn has said that when it came time to make this record [he] packed up, headed to Austin and entered the studio with a group of musicians that he had never worked with (or even met) prior to the session. It shows.
The music here hangs out in the background, a generic buzz, while Finn’s typical sing/speak meditations on missed opportunities, love gone wrong, and basically everything else that you’ve come to expect from song penned by Finn float overhead, disconnected and looking down on it all. The problem is that it never feels like Finn actually believes in his characters. As a writer, Finn seems to be simply coasting along between the borders of his, by now clearly defined, narrative comfort zone.
The one concession to be made here is that Finn’s subject matters do seem to have matured a good bit. Instead of singing about the joys of being young and pharmacologically adept, Finn’s characters on CHFE are middle aged, broken down and scared. Unfortunately their situations are addressed with the same generalized fuax-profundities that Finn has been unfortunately unable to rise above on The Hold Steady’s last few records.
I’ve gone on record with my disdain for the more recent material to come out of the Hold Steady camp, and unfortunately I have to continue to stand by that opinion. Somewhere around 2008’s Stay Positive, Finn’s songs began to show signs of a disconnect from his time tested subjects. By 2010’s Heaven Is Whenever it seemed that he had gone completely of the rails. The result was a batch of songs that were, discounting the opportunity they provided to witness the band’s wildly life affirming live performance, effectively pointless.
Clear Heart, Full Eyes fails to buck this trend, and it’s a damn shame. The songs that Finn penned for The Hold Stead’s first three records are arguably some of the best of a generation. They commanded you to feel something, to strike out at the world. They commanded you to F@#KING LIVE MAN! LIVE!!! These days though, all that seems to be left of that glorious rock and roll blaze are the ashes of a once potent playbook, rapidly dispersing into the atmosphere, never to be seen again.
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