Beauty is found in the every day but for Craig Finn, the every day is a depressing reflection of society and the American dream. I Need a New War is Finn’s 4th album in the past 7 years and the third album in a currently unnamed trilogy. Loaded with empathy, this album is both a celebration of the unremarkable but also a comment on the downsides of American life and how individuals survive and thrive in the culture.
“Magic Marker” is set after the Gulf War. The lengthy lyrics follow a man who is struggling to find his place in the world, an everyday story of a lonesome wanderer. The song is slowly propelled forwarded by Finn’s monotone, dialogue-like voice but the song rolls along without a specific destination. Everyone’s journey to find who they are is different but these individual journeys are never thought of as every day. From not having no path and maintaining a persona, “Stretchin’ out the truth, Tryin’ to seem a little hard” to settling into one, “Stretchin’ out the truth, Tryin’ to seem a little softer”, Finn’s lyrics have an uncanny way of engaging with universal journeys without being too on the nose.
Subtlety is definitely Finn’s strong suit. He has a talent for using a third person narrative while also remaining detached. “Her With The Blues”, detaches both Finn from the character and the undercurrent of monotony from the buzz of the city. This lazy paced, somewhat cinematic song, sounds thoroughly plebeian. It is a plod along track about a girl who has followed all the rules and lived her life as she was told. Surrounded by people, she feels like she is missing out. In contrast, Finn introduces us to another character who is restless and ambitious, the counter opposite to our titular character. This track isn’t about depression or being upset with life, but just being sad enough not to change anything.
Change seems to be an ironically reoccurring theme of Finn’s music. “Something to Hope For” was inspired by Finn’s experience of being bombarded with advertisements for injury lawyers while driving along a highway. The lyrics read like a satisfied customers testimony with tales of money gained from an accident and confirmation that life could be better if you sue, as if money will make it all better. The whole song doesn’t actually engage with the actual fallout of an accident but more so the monetary gain. The entire song is about selling the idea of suing culture and the repeated lines in the outro of “I wanna give you something to hope for” only mirror the daily onslaught of advertising for this type of service. Musically, big band horn and a delicate chorus of female voices enter, like a ray of light behind Finn’s businesslike tone only adding to the idea that taking this type of route will improve your life.
It is not surprising that this album is a comment on current American affairs as all of his album has acted as a commentary. There are references to the lack of American Freedom and how morals and ethics have been forgone in the search of financial freedom. It is depressing at best, highlighting that with freedom comes captivity, whether it be personal captivity or otherwise. It is a different type of album, it’s clever, arguably too clever and it leaves a bitter taste. Not because the album is lacking but because the world is lacking.