Craig Finn is a veteran writer, guitarist and singer and has been around the block more than a few times since starting indie-rock band LFTR PULLR in Minneapolis in 1994. Ten years later he formed the Hold Steady in Brooklyn, which went on to release six albums, the most recent in 2014. Finn’s solo albums have incorporated a huge variety of genres, from punk to jazz-orchestra, to accompany his astute lyrics. We All Want The Same Things delivers all that atop energetic electronica.
“God In Chicago” is a somber narrative of the therapy we all need after a heart-breaking loss. The track opens with Finn’s lyrics softly spoken over brooding piano. He describes a mother finding her dead son while the deceased’s sister—the focal point—finds his stash of cash and drugs: “She found a container, wrapped up in a newspaper/ Stuffed in a duffle bag with hockey pants and seven grand in rubber bands.” Finn attends the funeral service and afterward is called by the sister, saying, “There’s unfinished business, it’s roughly the size of baseball.”
Finn’s lyrics are so vivid that it’s easy to picture the sister and Finn driving to meet “Wayne from Winnetka,” her brother’s associate, at a “Mexican restaurant a mile north of Midway.” The song is a road trip and travel guide, with mentions of the Hyatt on Michigan Avenue, drinks and Italian food for dinner. The protagonists blast a Prince cassette in the car, bum cigarettes and let Grif overtake them.
“I felt God in the buildings/ The light from skyscrapers showing up in the river/ And four years didn’t seem like much anymore.” The liquor brings up the sorrow of loss and the lust of familiarity. They comfort each other with fond memories and the hopes of closure. They drive back in the morning and share their grief. It’s not the same pain felt at the beginning of the song, but a catharsis. “All the way to Eau Claire she played with her, came up on St. Paul and she was sobbing.” The lyrics linger as the piano concludes the track.
“Preludes” is a rhythmic reflection on returning to a dinky hometown after college. The measured drumming, the subtle brass and Finn’s lyrics bubble with the clarity and wisdom that comes from loneliness. In the song, Finn explains how different his hometown has become and touches on the dissonance between memories and reality. “The parking lot scene still existed, but not without problems/ I came back to St. Paul and things had progressed and got strange,” Finn sings.
We All Want The Same Things feels biographical and every sung syllable feels like it has a deep personal context. The melodies are less influenced by rock than his previous albums, but they complement the lyrics. Finn new solo release offers a bit of reflection and remedy for anyone struggling with his place in the world.
Follow columnist Ian Firstenberg at Twitter.com/IanFirstenberg.