Review Summary: ...the hero that you are when no one's watching.
If Craig Finn's reflection in the beer bottles round The Hold Steady's table is one of stuttering animation and brief moments of clarity, removed from his band he appears considerably less cavalier, content to interject when the conversation fades or the protagonists of his stories pause to take another drag of their cigarettes. Not that his storytelling lacks any of its usual incision - every line feels just as lived-in as ever - but on Clear Heart Full Eyes
he falls into his music slightly, allowing its more laid-back tone to do a little bit of the talking for him, and leaving more unsaid in general.
The songs situate themselves later in the evening, after all the explosions, when the thinking's done and the buzz is wearing off. Their guitars rumble and dip, considerably less urgent and punchy than those of his full-time band, and Finn sounds suitably contemplative; there is an ambience to this record which replaces the exuberant atmosphere he usually finds himself amongst, and his shouts follow the same dampened curve, though they never drop anywhere close to whispers.
The effects of this change of pace and tone are twofold; the characters Finn laments get more space in which to grow, away from the panicked chords of Hold Steady anthems, but they also find themselves with a shakier raison d'être - whether you can find somewhere for these songs to go depends on your own mental construction of these people and their scenery. It drifts, at points, but not without a deep chord to make you wonder, and though its transitions sometimes feel slightly misplaced, it's no form of posturing; Clear Heart Full Eyes
is entirely at ease with itself, rarely forcing the issue beyond the gently affecting, but
is definitely the right word. It goes down smooth.