Album Review: Craig Finn – We All Want the Same Things

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With his main gig as lead singer and songwriter for The Hold Steady, Craig Finn is already no stranger to writing readable rock-and-roll, documenting massive nights, and helping crowds create new connections. On his third solo album, Finn slows it down and dials his focus into the relationships and partnerships between individuals.

We All Want the Same Things comes less than two years after 2015’s Faith in the Future, and the two records feel very much like sister pieces. Both albums share cinematic production from Josh Kaufman, Finn’s low-stakes/high-detail character sketches, and album art that prominently features cars. However, this collection pivots slightly away from tales of regret and religion to spend a little bit more time on the ties that bind.

Leadoff track “Jester & June” introduces the album’s sound and themes, announcing itself with drums and saxophone squeals before sliding into dreamy guitars and bouncy nostalgia for the good old days. In this case, those good old days are of ones of drug deals and weird sad kids wearing Dracula capes – but even though Finn’s protagonists might have their better years behind them, they still have each other, they still have big plans, and they still have Finn’s empathy.

This understanding shines throughout the record, tying these individual sets of partners together across St. Paul, Chicago, and all the other old haunts in Finn’s musical universe. But the music itself also plays an important role. Unlike Finn’s harder-rocking songs with The Hold Steady, subtler contributions from Kaufman, Tad Kubler, Annie Nero, Sam Kassirer, and Stuart Bogie put every story center-stage and add the perfect swatch of colour to complement each character’s emotional cosmos.

Finn truly gets his people, and album closer “Be Honest” plays like a pledge to his characters and to himself. Standouts like “Birds Trapped in an Airport” (featuring a near-death experience, squiggly accordion-style bleeps-and-bloops, and emotional guest vocals from Caithlin De Marrais) and the piano-inflected spoken-word “God in Chicago” give a #NoFilter moment in the sun to the people who make mistakes, get messy, and – if they’re lucky – find ninety bucks and a moment of shelter in eachother’s arms. There are stories of relief, of desperation, and of licking your wounds after a beating with some good Samaritan crust punks. Through all the different portraits that Finn paints, everyone is relatable, defendable, and connected to one another – and this also makes it easy for the listener to step into these songs. We all want the same things too.

We All Want the Same Things is out March 24 on Partisan Records

Review – Dan Corber

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