Craig Finn | Clear Heart, Full Eyes

By RYAN REED  |  February 14, 2012
2.5 2.5 Stars

In the near-decade he's spent as frontman-lyricist of bar-rock saviors the Hold Steady, Craig Finn has hardly been labeled a happy camper. But the mood on Clear Heart, Full Eyes, his first solo album, is decidedly bleak— populated by disillusioned lovers and working class escapists, the lyrics splitting at the seams with dark religious imagery. With the Hold Steady, there's usually a silver lining showing through the thematic shit-storm, and the mighty, majestic classic-rock muscle helps even Finn's most troubled tropes wash over like blissful epiphanies. On his own, Finn's pen is laced with venom, spilling guilt and Catholic angst. When he's not directly name-dropping Jesus (the bitter, thinly-veiled buddy tale "New Friend Jesus" and just about every other song), he's noting the stupidity of the apostles on bluesy opener "Apollo Bay" or realizing "One thing's for certain/The devil's a person" on slow-burning anthem "No Future." With the Hold Steady, Finn's speak-sing melodies are not a problem, since their emphasis is sheer full-band power. Here, on more subdued rockers like suspicious lover tale "Jackson," the melodic vacancy is borderline obnoxious. When approaching straight-up country ("Vacant Eyes"), the marriage between spoken word rambling and perky shuffle is funny at best, stomach-turning at worst. When Finn manages to find appropriate backdrops for his wordy tales, Clear Heart, Full Eyes is far more successful: the glowing keyboards and pedal-steel perfectly match his wounded spirit in "Western Pier," and during the heavy climax of "Apollo Bay," Finn lets the music do the talking, deferring to wondrous sonic seizures of Wilco-esque guitar noise. I'm sure Clear Heart, Full Eyes was a cathartic album to make, and it's often a cathartic listen. But it's hard work trying to feel the presence of a human being behind his vacant expressions.

CRAIG FINN + MARCELLUS HALL | Great Scott, 1222 Comm Ave, Allston | February 28 @ 9 pm | $14 | 18+ | 617.566.9014

Related: Lower Dens | Nootropics, Zambri | House of Baasa, Grass Widow | Internal Logic, More more >
  Topics: CD Reviews , Music, Arts, The Hold Steady,  More more >
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