A bag of pot and seven thousand dollars are found amongst her brother’s hockey equipment when he dies unexpectedly, and the deceased guy’s sister reaches out to a friend of her bro, who helps her to get rid of the pot. Thus, are the two main protagonists joined together in the elegiac ‘God in Chicago’ which is a riveting and emotional piece of storytelling by Craig Finn. It’s very filmic: it could be an American road movie by Wim Wenders, Alexander Payne or Willy Vlautin.
The couple have to drive to Chicago, they do the do and then get a room for the night. Drawn together in their grieving; they make love, their tender union a comfort for the loss of Charlie, her brother and his friend.
It’s that universality that Finn zeroes in on with We All Want the Same Things, we all feel pain in this life and it is usually difficult to avoid suffering. We all hurt each other, unintentionally or with malice aforethought. It’s these very human traits that are captured and captivate in his work. Relationships and the way we relate to each other are high on his agenda. Finn’s narrative strands are utterly engrossing, while his musical melange is the work of a true original, the soundscapes crafted with unique and surprising content and textures.
There is almost an impasto quality to Jester and June, a gloriously, searing guitar solo breaks through the topographical texture akin to some of Frank Auerbach’s greatest work, providing wonder and excitement. More of which features on Preludes, there is a haptic aspect to it, a meshing of sound and feeling that almost manifests in the physical. There are some pleasing trumpet and flute parts that flutter around delightfully, thanks to Craig, his producer Josh Kaufman and horny man, Stuart Bogie.
Painterly as much as he is literary, Finn is renowned for writing about how people try to dampen or dull the pain with booze, a spliff, food, TV, social media, arguments, another drink, another spliff and then some munchies. However, he doesn’t focus on the high, he prefers to examine the lows, like the come downs: ‘Artistically I have always been really interested in the hangover; not just the celebration and the confetti but also the puke in the gutter,’ he says.
Despite these observations, Craig himself can be a man of abstinence. At one time the Hold Steady were renowned for their capacity for unlimited alcohol. Now he gives up drinking every Lent and several of the songs on We All Want The Same Things were written when he was on a write-a-song-a-day binge during Lent. Talk about sublimation.
But life for the Hold Steady front-man or his observations on others lives, are not all bleak. The dreamy, down-beat paean to love requited, It Hits When It Hits features some lovely backing vocals, saxophone parts and some soothing synths. ‘It seems a bit quick but I’ve been praying for this / the one thing that I’ve heard about love is it hits when it hits…I can tell that today is going to be a celebration’.
This lovely album is worth celebrating and venerating. And don’t be surprised if Craig follows Willy Vlautin’s path and produces a novel at some point that runs wild with the characters who inhabit his dark but sensitive psyche. Now, that would be a real buzz!