Clear Heart Full Eyes
Sitting in the middle of the party, spurting opinions around your pristinely decorated dining room like an addictive masturbator at a Wank-For-Millions fundraiser. Breaking all of the polite conversation taboos (organised religion, the wisdom of Jonny Rotten, his rental situation), frequently sharing intimate secrets about people you've never heard of and engaging everyone in long drawn-out morally questionable stories. The whole scene unravels in an awkward mix of worldly presumptions, outlandish theological claims and drunken spur-of-the-moment regret. He's your new best friend but you fucking hate the obnoxious little not-it-all cunt. Yes, you only make the mistake of inviting Craig Finn to a dinner party once.
But this isn't a dinner party, it's an album. And within these confines, with his arm around your shoulder, halfway between an embracing cuddle and a firm headlock, Finn is a tolerable companion.
As with his previous role as the guiding force of Lifter Puller and The Hold Steady, he focuses mostly on painting tales with such clarity that you either comfortably adapt them to your own experiences or feel like you're watching them unravel as part of a slow motion, ketamine-fueled backwater telemovie. Your ex-girlfriend might not be parading around the party with a long finger-nailed twat, but you've either been in a similar scenario where the green grass of your past is now a flourishing pasture and/or you can imagine John Butler saddling up next to a girl you've seen naked and hypnotising her vagina damp with one strum of his banjo.
Pealing away Finn's dominate presence, musically this is very different from the work of The Hold Steady, almost completely void of the immediately accessible classic FM trimmings and the triumphant guitar climaxes. Instead, we get clangy folk, stripped back acoustical numbers and the occasional grind of alt-country anguish. These mostly minimal backings force Finn into a more subdued state, where he's rarely required to raise his blood pressure above the point of slight outrage, thus the subject matter is of a much less forthright and confronting nature.
Essentially, Clear Heart Full Eyes can be summarised with two songs — No Future and New Friend Jesus. One is loaded with classic quotable quips about obsession, regret and suicide, while the other attempts religious parody (I hope so) but ends up sounding more Christian Rock than Malcolm Creed riding Nickleback up and down the Hillsong Highway. Between these two bookends, there's plenty of enjoyment, but equal amounts of cringe-worthy awkwardness, where Finn pens lyrics with his tongue so firmly in his cheek that the message gets misconstrued and lost. Die-hard, obsessive "Finnies" who find everything the man does incredibly fascinating will search deep and find loads of enjoyable details here. Those who just think he's a less attractive Springsteen with a Special K damaged memory and a few too many recycled tales probably won't change their opinion.