Craig Finn
I Need A New War


4.5
superb

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
May 1st, 2019 | 88 replies


Release Date: 2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Small-town stories, bigger lessons.

I don’t know Craig Finn – personally, or even musically – but after listening to I Need A New War, I feel like I’ve known him my whole life. There’s something about the music he writes on this album that makes you feel depressingly at home. The kind of people you meet in all walks of life pop up in his stories, like Francis – a well-meaning friend who let Finn crash on his couch during hard times, but won’t seem to let him forget: “Francis did me a favor I’ll always remember” / “But I can’t keep saying thank you” / “Francis, is there someway to help that's not just handing you money?” Then there’s Carmen, a woman who met a man she thought she could help, and is now weighed down: “Late for work while he's still sleeping, put a twenty on the counter with a note there right beside it that says, ‘have a decent day’” / “When she gets back on the highway, there's the urge to keep on going” / “Came home and found him sleeping, in the same place that she'd left him” / “It's just hard to keep from crying, when there's nothing more to say.” I Need A New War recounts the sad monotony of Nowhere, America, and nobody tells it better than Craig Finn.

These people feel like more than just characters within a concept album because they are. Each song in the story is a piece to the puzzle, and the album’s themes represent the bigger picture: self-absorbed relative “nobodies”, wallowing in their misery and trying to outrun their problems until they cease to exist. Finn carefully weaves these personal anecdotes with broader philosophical strokes – like “you travel your whole life just to get out to the place you're gonna die” – and that’s what I mean when I say that the album makes you feel depressingly at home. All these characters are likely to seem familiar to some degree, whether it’s Francis, Carmen, Craig Finn himself, or Anne Marie and Shane – a couple in an abusive relationship: “Anne Marie loves Shane so much, but sometimes Shane can get a little rough” / “She thinks it's just the way they brought him up” / “If you're gonna start tonight, the cops gonna come, I know you're not that brave” / “Anne Marie came back on a bus on her own, moved into the basement of her step-father's home” / “If I were you, I wouldn't even ask about Shane…some things she didn't wanna say.” I Need A New War projects this string of unfortunate cases as a larger statement: This is what makes up our world, these sad tales of greed, neglect, and abuse.

The record is one where the lyrics outweigh the need for a sense of musical adventure; there’s nothing upbeat or exhilarating about the state of affairs here, so we get Finn’s Kozelek-meets-Oberst brand of talk-singing rather than warm melodies or experimental songwriting. In all honesty, nothing else would really fit this album anyway. The rambling nature of Finn’s delivery adds to the immersive storytelling, where listeners are focused on Finn’s lyrics – and what’s going to happen next to the characters in these stories – rather than worrying about hooks, riffs, or even the music at all. That isn’t to say that the album offers nothing in that area, but when Finn decides to figuratively dot his i’s, it feels like you’ve arrived at a momentous occasion – like the string-swept ‘Indications’, replete with hazy ahh’s and a gorgeous brass section. In crafting a monotonous vocal/delivery tone from the start, Finn sets himself up to capitalize with these subtle accents, which feel even more illustrious thanks to the comparatively bland musical context. It’s why the jazzy, almost Destroyer-reminiscent “Her With The Blues’ seems so rich and textured, and why the titular mantra of “I need a new war!” on ‘Grant at Galena’ feels so dynamic and impactful. Craig Finn knows just when to pull out the stops, and those moments make it worth the vaster melodic dullness, even though it helps center the album around words instead of hooks.

I’d like to recount the above passage one last time – the album’s namesake, “I need a new war.” The line is centered around Finn’s move to the big city following rural life, metaphorically encapsulating his desire to face new people and challenges. The lyrics’ meaning feels like it could – should – be extrapolated and applied to each of the characters that he depicts along the way. Everyone on this album is stuck in some kind of a rut, and just as Finn did for himself, his advice seems to be to pack up and move on. Sometimes you reach a point where you realize a war simply can’t be won – whether it’s a deadbeat boyfriend, a selfish ex-friend, or being trapped in a town with nothing to offer – and it’s best to, in a sense, pull the troops out. That’s I Need A New War: the plodding, disheartening tales of the average person, and the small windows that represent a way out.



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user ratings (25)
Chart.
3.8
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
May 1st 2019


30663 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

This keeps growing on me. Wouldn't be surprised if I gave it another bump up in the future.

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theBoneyKing
May 1st 2019


16667 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Lol just bumped the previous album’s review few minutes ago



“Grant at Galena” and “Her With the Blues” are two of the best songs of the year so far.

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 1st 2019


30663 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

Agreed completely, Boney.

theBoneyKing
May 1st 2019


16667 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great review too. I’m always a sucker for heavily character sketch focused albums like this.

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 1st 2019


30663 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

Thanks...I am too although I struggle to find ones as gripping as this. The album could have just been Finn talk-singing as he does with no musical backing and I'd still enjoy it. I found myself hanging on the stories more than the instruments or melodies.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
May 1st 2019


769 Comments


You haven't heard The Hold Steady? Get on that.

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 1st 2019


30663 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

I've been reviewing a lot of new (to me) artists lately. Thanks for the rec, I'll get on both that and The Swell Season.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
May 1st 2019


769 Comments


Yeah it's great that you do that. It's interesting to read that perspective for sure.

I was just being pushy because they're a great band 😀

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 1st 2019


30663 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

I want people to push me into great bands, so no worries.

DoofDoof
May 1st 2019


3380 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

‘no one tells it better than Craig Finn’



Maybe Willy Vlautin but Finn is definitely up there.



This album is top 10 of the year so far - just need to decide if this or it’s predecessor is better.



This doesn’t have a song as outstanding as ‘God in Chicago’ but maybe has more songs closer to that quality than the previous album did.

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DoofDoof
May 1st 2019


3380 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Also - solo Finn is superior to The Hold Steady for me

theBoneyKing
May 1st 2019


16667 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

He and Willy are definitely in a similar league. I’d put your Isbell and James McMurtry in there too.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
May 1st 2019


769 Comments


I think some of his solo tracks beat his band work. But they are definitely essential listening still

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
May 1st 2019


769 Comments


james mcmurtry is a working class hero

and i think 'western pier' is my favorite craig finn affiliated song

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 1st 2019


30663 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

Didn't realize what a large pool of associated music/acts I was tapping into, so always good to have more places to go from here.

BigHans
May 1st 2019


29695 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Sowing if you like Finn's character stories you need to listen to Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls in America by the Hold Steady immediately.

Hawks
May 1st 2019


70615 Comments


I need this asap. His last album was fantastic.

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SowingSeason
Moderator
May 1st 2019


30663 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

Lots of push for The Hold Steady; I'll def be getting on it soon! :-)

dmathias52
May 2nd 2019


338 Comments


This sounds almost perfect for me right now. I graduate college in two weeks and am only 15 minutes away from my rural hometown of 500 people. In August I move to St. Louis for my MSW, and it sounds like this could be my soundtrack for that move. Can’t wait to check it out!

Digging: Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties - Routine Maintenance

Lucman
May 2nd 2019


2519 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Lovin this so far.

Digging: Shiina Ringo - Shouso Strip



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