Craig Finn - Clear Heart Full Eyes | Album Review | By Volume

Holding on too long is just a fear of letting go, because not every thing that goes around comes back around, you know. QOTSA - ...Like Clockwork

A religious antidote to The Hold Steady’s inimitable brand of sin.

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Author: on April 30, 2012

I guess there are plenty of reasons for this being of Craig Finn and not Craig Finn’s band: personal pronouns and declarations, rather than John Berryman and a cast of characters; a warped, avant-garde moment to go with that “Springsteen” rock about kids shooting drugs; a different kind of Americana, maybe. For me, though, the main distinction is that ‘Clear Heart Full Eyes’ is sort of a religious album, or at least it’s about Jesus, and a lot. He’s in the buddy-buddy rock band on “New Friend Jesus,” he’s sentencing and executing on “Western Pier,” he chills on a ruined Hawaiin beach on “Honolulu Blues.” It’s easy to write this all off as ironic— Finn is writing lines as unbelievably enlightened as “I wish I was with Jesus when you loved meI would have been a better man,” so it’s easy to call it a joke and move on— but he pops up here like a seriously healthy antidote. It’s not finding God and getting high on life, it’s losing the girlfriend and walking through a living nightmare. He crops up on a lot of shit moments on ‘Clear Heart Full Eyes’, but somehow this Jesus isn’t a character as much as an excuse, a justification, and sometimes just a presence on a story about an overfilling. There’s a lot of overfilling on this album.

I guess that what I really mean to say is that this album is more than a Hold Steady record, an album reaching to the sky, even at its most deliberately confined.  Writing for Tiny Mix Tapes recently, J. Arthur Bloom attached the term “Cosmic American” to this album, and it perfectly describes the division in ‘Clear Heart Full Eyes’; these are still the same old national problems, if for nothing more than Finn’s accent and the occasional landscaping (the talk of the Wagon Wheel as a place), but Finn is looking up to the sky as if it’s gonna solve or at least fucking relate to his problems. Using Jesus makes the little moments more spatial and out there, and so on the Jesus-less “Rented Room,” a slow burning rocker’s jam, Finn is still this oddly mindful man, reflecting on the confines of his own room but circling the same short guitar riffs over and over like he can cause a rift in space and time amongst these four walls. This makes no sense, but it’s on ‘Clear Heart Full Eyes’ that Finn begins to transcend the dancefloors and the drugs in favour of giving it up to the heavens above. Or just an alternative world where things are a bit less grounded and yet still totally American. “I bathe in the dark, feels like a womb / I know I should be getting over you, some things are really hard to do, when you’re living in a rented room.

On “Jackson,” a crucial point cuts through the silly organs and badass rockery: “why you asking about Jackson?” is the question for which there’s no real answer, and in its place there are a lot of devastating answers: he went nuts, he moved town and we never saw him again, the usual shrugs of the shoulder. These dead ends have been travelled by Finn before, I think: my favourite Hold Steady songs end tragically and ambiguously, with Finn almost stopping short of terrifying himself. To me, ‘Clear Heart Full Eyes’ is a spiritual extension of “One For The Cutters,” his greatest Hold Steady song, in which a lost girl gets more lost and then we lose her too. But while she’s clamouring through parties and disappearing into a druggy haze, a song like “Jackson” looks for some crazy metaphor to explain the loose ends. And then he just says that the party wasn’t the thing, because “one day Jackson just didn’t turn up to the party,” and we’re still wondering. The odd leftfield turn in melody won’t have anyone fooled, maybe— “Apollo Baby” is still an indie rock track from that indie rock dude Craig Finn— but to me it’s a more conscious effort for a man to align himself with his songs, and to reveal the spiritual (religious, maybe? However do you define that word?) side of him that wanders off from the party. Okay, so it’s not all about Jesus, but it’s an emotional overfilling, an album of moments that are too much like returning from the mental home or turning up on your ex’s porch. And so Finn’s characters stare up, once more, into the sky, and use it in their own grand way.

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