on January 25, 2012
Not Much Left Of Us
Craig Finn is like Bob Dylan - you either enjoy his voice or you don't. The question for most people considering Clear Heart Full Eyes is going to be where it falls on the catalog - is it more LFTR/PLLR, The BrokerDealer or The Hold Steady? Does it suck? Should I buy it?
The Hold Steady, No, Yes.
With that resolved - Finn's solo album does have it's occasional moments of awkwardness (lyrical and musical) but overall there were few moments that made me wish it had more Kubler. While Clear Heart Full Eyes fails to reach the heights of his best collaborative works there is little for Finn to be ashamed of here. (Ok, My New Friend Jesus is not the strongest track he's ever put out. I give you that up front.) Oddly one of his strongest tracks, Sarah I'm Surrounded, is not available on the CD. Thematically Finn is still working with his familiar group of people trying to get past obstacles and capture something bright for a moment. Here they face depression, medical bills and the inevitable erosions of time. Some of the tracks could have easily been put out by The Hold Steady, but framing them in this quieter style serves Finn's vocal style well. Solo projects can feel like a closet clearing - something the artist had to get out to go on with his main work. Clear Heart Full Eyes feels like an overflow from an artist with more to say than one band has room for. I look forward to the next album by The Hold Steady, but Clear Heart Full Eyes has won my heart on its own merits.
on February 6, 2012
When I heard one song in a preview of this album -- "Rented Room" -- I expected Craig was going to put out a collection of slow-tempo songs without the rocking energy of the Hold Steady material. Boy was I pleasantly surprised. This is a terrific album. In some what it's even more accessible than some Hold Steady songs because there are chorus hooks in every song and in almost every song Craig fully sings, without lapsing into the talk-singing he does in a number of Hold Steady songs. Many of the songs like "Terrified Eyes," "No Future" and "Balcony" were instant likes for me, but the other songs build interest almost as quickly. The songs feature all the brilliant storytelling and clever lines listeners have come to expect of Craig, but the music offers quite a surprise in being quite distinct from the Hold Steady standard. A few even have a bit of a country twang. In an interview I read, Tad Kubler acknowledged that his addiction problems may have Craig worried about his artistic future and that he may have put out this ablum to prove to himself he could still have a career if Tad's problems led to the demise of the Hold Steady. Let's hope the latter never happens - and they're already talking about the sixth Hold Steady album. But while you wait for that one, I think most Hold Steady fans will enjoy how accomplished Craig's solo effort is.
on February 3, 2012
I never post reviews on Amazon, and though in reality I would likely rate this at 4 stars, I had to boost the ridiculously low current rating. Craig Finn is one of the best storytellers in today's music scene and much of this album ranks among his finest work. Many a reviewer has noted that this doesn't match the bombastic rock & roll of a Hold Steady record, but that's not a bad thing. The more subdued, Americana-esque vibe fits the record and the songs really well. If you like to pay attention when you listen, this album will reward you.
on February 29, 2012
As a big fan of the Hold Steady, I was ready to embrace this album. I think Craig Finn is a great lyricist and singer, but this album falls a little short of the mark. It's very lyric heavy at the expensive of the music, I think. It's a pleasant listen, but none of the tracks stay in your head. Hold Steady, don't leave me now! I'm sure you still have much more to offer.
on February 26, 2012
For his solo debut, Craig Finn, known mostly for his band The Hold Steady but also for Mini Apple rockers Lifter Puller, went to Austin, Texas. Noted for it's music scene, college culture, "Keep Austin Weird" mantra and bevy of art house film legends (Terrence Malick is currently shooting a film that uses the town's music scene as a setting), the Texas capital resembles Portland more than it does Dallas. Brooklyn more than Houston or San Antonio. An extremist island of liberals sunk in an ocean of stiff conservatism. To say that Finn and his literary slant fit in instantly with the town's educated, progressive, laid back population would be an understatement. He quickly picked up a band and almost immediately started recorded songs he'd been saving for some time now. Both songs that didn't fit the sound of The Hold Steady and new songs that he was still getting to know himself. Songs with a heavy focus on narrative writing and, maybe more than anything else, Finn's distinctive vocal style, which is a deep, talk-y brand that falls somewhere between early early Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen and the ranting of Louis CK. Along for the ride are go-to Austin producer Mike McCarthy (Spoon, Trail of Dead, etc.), Centro-matic's Will Johnson and a handful of Austinite studs.
And sure, there's a little bit of twang here (mostly in the drums and slide guitar), but probably not enough to completely lose the THS fans who lean more towards Finn's band's Thin Lizzy and Who influence than, say, their clear love for Springsteen, Westerberg or the Stones. The tracks play through quickly and pleasantly, rarely breaking the mid-tempo vibe and almost always focused on simple four-piece arrangements and the songwriter's voice and words. Finn's always rhythmic, often repetitive, totally verbose and wholly bookish songwriting hits an early peak on "When No One's Watching," a song that works as a one-on-one conversation with a lying womanizer whom Finn describes as "a weak man living off of weaker women." Here we learn a little about just one of Finn's new rambling characters; later we visit Jackson and Stephanie on another wordy standout called "Jackson." Two of Finn's drug buddies, at least in song - one an aspiring actor and the other a bored party girl. The kind of people you meet after you've been on the cover of Spin Magazine.
Another of Clear Eyes' more masterful tracks, titled "Honolulu," further hints at Finn's versatility as a songwriter. Here we have a memorable, almost bouncy, track that could easily be a popular radio single, if only it were sung by a songbird like Taylor Swift rather than a drinking buddy like Craig Finn. Imagine a great early era Jimmy Buffett song, if only Buffett were as elegant of a writer as he begs us to believe with his many mediocre novels. In a mere 250 seconds Finn tells a hazy, abstract story that feels cinematic, even hinting at the writing style of auteur Jim Jarmusch, whom Finn has surely crossed paths with since his move to New York City. The track grows and grows with repeated plays, both in widescreen mystery and accessibility, as any great song should.
While there is much here to love in this record that shows a new side of one of today's favorite college rock songwriters, Clear Heart Full Eyes does begin to feel a bit long and tedious over its 11 songs and 44 minutes. But maybe only because there are just that many damn lyrics here - so much to get to know and so many rhymes and schemes and characters and ideas. Lucky for the listener, Finn and his Austin crew did a good job at making the record sound very cohesive and clean - a Texas record through and through. The adventure and pop we hear on Hold Steady records might be missing, but the songs - most of 'em at least - do reward familiarity. That said, Clear Heart Full Eyes would probably be a more powerful listening experience had Finn kept things brief, cutting three of the lesser tracks, instead offering a mini album that still features more lyrics than any single disc since Bright Eyes' Lifted. All together, though, a solid solo debut and some top-shelf storytelling from one of today masters of vocal style.
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on February 18, 2012
Craig Finn delivered the solo album many fans of The Hold Steady had always hoped for. He brings his unique voice and storytelling in a more personal form. For new comers to Finn's stylings, they might try "No Future" and "Honolulu Blues" to figure out if this album is for them. There are some great articles written about how Finn brought this together in a very low-scale way from his own apartment in the city. I can't help but feel this album will be more appreciated as his career continues forward and people come back to discover what was done on "Clear Heart, Full Eyes".
on September 23, 2012
One thing about the Hold Steady disks is that I felt there was too much of an
egalitarian push to include the whole band in every number. With Clear Heart Full Eyes, Craig Finn is allowed to orchestrate the songs. This doesn't mean it's just one of those acoustic guitar albums, it means the numbers are tighter, better arranged and more dynamic. The tracks themselves are overall excellent. His lyrics are, as always, a nice blend of wit, angst and a touch of references which an old man like me may not catch (what is a "VB"?).
Tracks 3 thru 6 are amazing (I only get to listen while I drive, so I do not identify tracks by title).
(Note: If you are are offended by any mention of religion, be prepared for a basket load of religious references. If you cannot tolerate this, I suggest you still buy it and try to grow up a little.)
Not only would I buy this again, but I bought a copy and had it to delivered to one of my sons, who, like me, finds many of the tracks very familiar to situations we encountered in our past.
on October 13, 2012
Craig Finn is today's best songwriter; lyrically, no one comes close. This record took a few spins to grow on me, but I knew it would.
The vinyl is quiet and much more dynamic than the CD & MP3. It really compliments the organic instrumentation. Unfortunately, the vinyl does not contain "Rented Room" even though there is plenty of space for it. Nice packaging with an embossed cover & individual postcards with lyrics/photo. Download code included.
on February 26, 2012
Craig Finn continues to be one of strongest and most uniquely American lyricists of any recent generation - his words are right up there with Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, etc. Finn could easily have wound up writing poems for obscure literary journals - instead, he found music, thank God (and he does, often, on this album). Never a strong singer, his delivery has always bordered on spoken word. Or, rather, regarding his work with Lifter-Puller and The Hold Steady, shouted word. Here on CLEAR HEART, FULL EYES, Finn produces his first consistently quiet and subdued work.
If there are drawbacks to the album, it's that the lyrics and music are a bit looser in form and content - less succinct, more exploratory - than we might be used to from this writer. The album has the feel of a private session with Finn - we're privy to readings from the contemplative 40-something's notebook, as opposed to the raucous sing-alongs of the party host to whom we're more accustomed. No one's going to be pumping their fists to this one - and that's part of the album's charm. The mosh pit is on the other side of town, kid - CHFE takes place in the alley between the coffeehouse and the sleepy honkytonk.
The best popular artists seem to strike a balance between art and business, fan base and introspection. Devotees of Finn's THS and L/P work might be jonesing for the next anthemic concept album, and who knows, Finn might eventually deliver it, if he so chooses. Meanwhile, it's a pleasure to see an artist continue stretching and reaching, remaining familiar, but nowhere near growing stale or repetitive.
on February 4, 2012
Craig Finn - Clear Heart Full Eyes (Full Time Hobby)
On first hearing, it's understandable why Craig Finn's debut solo record was never going to be a Hold Steady album. The small screen Americana that the band play, and excel at - something that coalesces the rock `n' roll abandon of prime-time Replacements with the short stories of Richard Ford - simply doesn't apply on "Clear Heart Full Eyes". Instead Finn brings calmness and a quiet quirkiness to his songs, and lets his words run without confinement.
In interviews he's spoken about songwriters who have stirred his imagination, and a desire to strip back the bluster - though The Hold Steady peddle some of the finest bluster around. Here he sounds like a writer totally familiar with the prime movers of the Texas songwriting tradition; Guy Clark, Townes van Zandt, Blaze Foley, etc., together with various new Dylans, including John Prine and Steve Goodman. There's never been any doubting his songwriting prowess, right from the early days of "Almost Killed Me", and here he gets the chance to put his words front and centre. My favourites are many, and I must draw attention to the chugging "No Future" - Freddie Mercury and Johnny Rotten so rarely get to be in the same song together, even Neil Young only managed to squeeze one of them in - and "New Friend Jesus", where Finn get's to talk about his new pal, all to a rather glorious country groove.