Review Summary: ‘And four years didn’t seem like much anymore’
‘And four years didn’t seem like much anymore’
Craig Finn is first and foremost a storyteller. Taking cues from the Boss himself, Finn’s lyrical dexterity has given the Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls in America
and Separation Sunday
a solid cult following alongside modern Americana classics such as Titus Andronicus’s The Monitor
and the Gaslight Anthem’s The ‘59 Sound
. While Springsteen-tinged indie-punk seems to have reached an apex in the late 2000s, Finn’s newest solo album marks a maturation for the singer-songwriter both in terms of musical arrangements and lyrical content. The youthful, drug-addled days of the Party Pit may be a distant memory for Finn, but nostalgia and introspection provide their own source of poetic inspiration in We All Want the Same Things
It may come as a surprise, but We All Want the Same Things
is one of Finn’s most ambitious efforts to date. The 10 tracks, clocking in around 43 minutes, run the gamut of heartland rock, from the rock n’ rollin’ ‘Tracking Shots’ to the spoken-word centerpiece ‘God in Chicago’. Finn’s accompanying band play a wide range of instruments, with a variety of horns, strings, and backup vocals supplementing the traditional guitars & drums setup. The backing band sounds far more like the E Street Band than Jawbreaker, with deep soundscapes complementing Finn’s post-modern lyrical play.
The album opens with classic Finn pseudo-rhyming poetry on ‘Jester & June’:
Well the bartender's friend sold us something
I think was probably coriander
We All Want the Same Things
is about a lot of things: change, love, friendship, alcoholism, loneliness, and growing up. True to his previous efforts, Finn infuses his coming-of-age tales with Biblical allusions:
The lamb can wander from the flock
In shopping malls and parking lots
Sometimes the shepherd brings him back
Some nights the wheels just spin
While typical Hold-Steady-esque tales of drug-fueled nights are in store for Finn’s ensemble cast, the tired tone of his lyrical delivery, coupled with restrained nostalgia of the backing music suggests reflection rather than contemporary burnout. Finn is writing as a wistful, reflective narrator, rather than an active participant in the late-night debauchery of his characters.
The centerpiece of the album is the poetic ‘God in Chicago’. Musically reminiscent of a melancholy ‘History Lesson Part II’, the fifth track traces a journey of two young lovers, one of whom just lost her brother, probably to a drug overdose.
I felt God in the buildings
The light from the skyscrapers showing up in the river
And four years didn’t seem like much anymore
We both want the same things
While Finn’s lyrics are perhaps a more mature but no less poetic iteration of his usual middle-America storytelling, the instrumental arrangements make We All Want the Same Things
stand out as one of Finn’s strongest efforts. The hooks are just really damn catchy throughout the album. ‘It Hits When It Hits’, another standout, is a slow-burner ballad accompanied by an ensemble of horns and strings. On its coattails comes ‘Tracking Shots’, an exception on the album in terms of its high energy.
We All Want the Same Things
is a fitting addition to Craig Finn’s existing catalog; I’d assert it ranks in quality among the best Hold Steady albums. Stunning arrangements, compelling stories, and excellent instrumentation create a nostalgic atmosphere that will satisfy any Hold Steady fan, hell, even any Replacements fan. We All Want the Same Things
teaches us that maybe we can’t party like it’s 2004 anymore, but that doesn’t mean our stories have ended.