Clear Heart Full Eyes
So you caught me. I’m actually reviewing this album because I love the title so much since the wife and I have been watching heavy doses of Friday Night Lights. Even though I really love a couple Hold Steady albums (the primary band that Craig Finn reigns from), their last couple albums didn’t exactly strike excitement out of me as Craig Finn’s sing-talk can wear on you over time. For those who don’t know, The Hold Steady are hailed by some as “The Best Bar Band in America”, as their brand of guitar-driven classic rock mixed with Tad Kubler, Craig Finn, and Franz Nicolay’s balls-to-the-wall playing style makes for a really fun live show. Finn in a very Springsteen-ian way, interweaves stories of troubled boys and girls in America (a la the album, Boys and Girls in America), with lines of great insight and some of great humor. This makes for an odd but alluring mix of straight-forward rock mixed with complex and often poetic story-telling.
On his first solo venture, Finn trades in his rollicking backing band for mellower arrangements steeped in blues, roots, and country. His voice has now come to the front of the mix and his words come to the forefront. For some reason this album more than his other albums sounds less Bruce Springsteen and more Elvis Costello, as his unique voice becomes the centerpiece and his ability to break down human actions and our shortcomings. Craig Finn always breeds an interesting cross-section of how religion, sex, and drugs (alcohol most definitely included) collide in American youth.
Songs like “New Friend Jesus” and “Terrified Eyes” bring to mind Bright Eyes more recent work when Connor dipped into Americana, and these songs work as well as anything else on the album. The very subdued songs like “Rented Room” and “Western Pier” also deliver as Craig Finn’s affected vocals always have worked surprisingly well in a good hearty ballad.
At other points, Clear Heart Full Eyes doesn’t deliver anything more than standard singer-songwriter fare. “Balcony” is a pretty soppy mid-tempo song with nothing too memorable to hold you. “No Future” is like the Dad-rock version of a good Hold Steady rocker.
So while I turned away from Hold Steady after their last couple albums, Full Heart Clear Eyes does offer a couple highlights in the right direction for Finn, but not enough to spend your hard earned dollar on. I would simply recommend just jumping back and enjoying Hold Steady’s two premiere albums, Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls in America.
Can’t Miss: “Jackson”, “Terrified Eyes”, “Western Pier”
Can’t Hit: “Balcony” “No Future”, “Not Much Left Of Us”