Artists seem to go solo for one of two reasons: either their band has broken up or they want to make music that does not fit into the cannon of their main band. The latter seems to be the case with Craig Finn. Said of his decision to go solo, The Hold Steady‘s music is celebratory but he does not feel that way all of the time. There were hints of this on the Hold Steady’s 2010 album, Heaven Is Whenever. The band which is known for great openers kicked off the album with “The Sweet Part of the City,” a slow, country-tinged ballad filled with slide guitar and plenty of melancholy. That track seems to be the blue print for Finn’s debut solo album, Clear Heart Full Eyes.
Tracks like “Western Pier,” showcase the new dynamic for Finn. The track has a downtrodden dirge feel to it, similar to R.E.M.‘s “Country Feedback.” The track features an acoustic guitar backbone with steel guitars laid over the top. But for the difference in musical elements, Finn’s vocal performance and lyrical content remains fairly consistent with those of the Hold Steady. Still very evident are the religious themes. So prevalent is the theme that it is difficult to find a track that does NOT mention Jesus. Perhaps the most obvious is “New Friend Jesus,” which sounds like a campy update of Norman Greenbaum’s classic “Spirit in the Sky.”
As Finn is prone to do, he juxtaposes religious iconography with rock ‘n’ roll iconography. It is Finn’s way of saying “Joe Strummer is as relevant as Jesus to me.” Just in “No Future” alone, Finn name checks Freddie Mercury and Johnny Rotten.
But after the name checking and the religion, Clear Heart Full Eyes just feels like the slowest Hold Steady record to date. Besides a subtly lack of energy, there is not much difference between Craig Finn the solo artist and Craig Finn the Hold Steady front man. Those hoping to see Finn do something different on his first solo outing will certainly disappointed but those hoping for a new Hold Steady record will find a lot of comfort in Clear Heart Full Eyes.