Andy James wraps his ears around the new Craig Finn record:
Like much of his band’s back catalogue, Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn’s solo debut Clear Heart Full Eyes is firmly set in a world inhabited by drop-outs, drifters and drinkers.
More stripped-back and understated in sound, its characters still come to life like they’ve fallen from the pages of a Charles Bukowski novel - with rented rooms, bed sheets for curtains, and weak men living off of weaker women.
Terrified Eyes tells the story of a women returning from hospital intent on drinking to the bitter end, crossing herself before yet another round. The upbeat, country-tinged feel is in stark contrast to the subject matter. When it arrives, the refrain is textbook Finn: “In the middle of the day, she mostly feels ok, but when night time comes, she just feels terrified.”
However, in common with Bukowski, there’s also resilience, warmth and even humour in places. In New Friend Jesus the song’s protagonist is turned away from the doorstep, the object of his affection unconvinced he’s found god and changed. He can’t even take his new best friend to the game: “It’s hard to catch with holes right through your hands.”
Themes of judgement and salvation are present throughout, with the pedal steel driven Western Pier a standout - not dissimilar in feel to REM’s Country Feedback. When Finn sings the line “There’s one thing you should know about, Christ is watching me right now” it hangs heavy in the air - like it’s intended as threat rather than a reassurance.
While Clear Heart Full Eyes is tough going in places and not the easiest entry point to Craig Finn’s lyrical style - newcomers would do better hunting out the Hold Steady’s Separation Sunday or Boys and Girls in America - there’s still plenty here to get your teeth into.
Review by Andy James