We All Want The Same ThingsPartisan Records
By Cole Faulkner
If I had to nominate one person to take over the role of God, it would be Craig Finn. The prolific front man of The Hold Steady has always had a way with creating rich, lifelike worlds from mere words. Finn’s knack for generating spontaneous yet vividly alive characters and settings has set him apart from his peers in the indie-rock scene for over a decade. At this point Finn’s world is well documented and loved. But it has also served as a point of stagnancy, with each new album returning to familiar themes and locations centred around a medley of characters that risk being eclipsed by their earlier equivalents.
Thankfully, Finn’s latest solo album, We All Want The Same Things, marks a new and invigorating beginning that draws upon a cast of newcomers from the periphery and places them squarely at the centre. As the album’s title implies, Finn frames this collection of songs around themes of personal fulfillment and resilience. As might be expected, the twist of fate’s cruel hand defines each character’s story with a dark reality of disappointment and personal strife. Standout songs like “Rescue Blues” exemplify Finn’s level of sensitivity and care to individual challenges. A story of companionship between the song’s protagonist and a working class widow living as a back-room clerk at a grocery store and living off of a healthy insurance payout, Finn sets the scene with the most human of characterizations: “I know Jamie from the grocery store / Up on Garden Boulevard / She started out as a cashier / Now she’s in the back / She does scheduling and bookkeeping / She finishes her shift / Gets the bus and meets me back here.” As the details slowly mount, they weave a picture as genuine and believable as any listener’s own life and daily interactions. The same can be said of the characterization of shedding risky adolescent reputations for full adult criminal identities in “Jester and June,” and an uncanny characterization of love’s unlikely but instant pull and vice grip in “It Hits When It Hits.”
It’s also well worth noting that composition structure and instrumental choice further distance Craig Finn from his band’s typical work, communicating with a more relaxed, mellow edge, rather than a simple rigid adherence to conventions defining The Hold Steady. Put far too simply, there’s a less predictable, more creative element that aligns more with the indie side of indie-rock. In a word, the album feels organic and true to itself. There’s no better exemplar than the spoken-word hybrid “God In Chicago.” A piano-based narrative that unfolds in the aftermath of the death of an old friend, the listener feels as if tagging along in the backseat of a fateful roadtrip to settle some “unfinished business” with the sister of a recently deceased friend. You can practically hear the “boombox in the backseat that was running out of batteries, play[ing] Led Zeppelin III,” envision the smile on her face as business transforms into an unforgettable night spent in taverns, on lively street corners, and eating in nameless restaurants. Propped up by a central choral duet featuring female vocal whispers, the song’s climax highlights the album’s underlying melody without reverting back to familiar territory.
“Ain’t it funny how we all get by / but not the way that way that makes us laugh / the lust burns off into handshakes and hugs / in the end it comes down to the cash,” sings Finn in the album’s parting song, “Be Honest.” Such a statement summarizes the sentiment flowing through We All Want The Same Things: that what may have seemed like a good idea at the time often unravels with unanticipated consequences. Each song thrives on a deep reflective capacity that doesn’t shy away from a detailed exposition of challenging outcomes. In fact, most of these tracks are not about life in the moment – but rather focus on the lifetime that follows after that moment has past. Craig Finn’s work always features undeniable highs, it’s just been awhile since a disc has so prominently upheld momentum from start to finish. Unquestionably some of Finn’s most well rounded and passionate work to date.