Craig Finn – ‘I Need a New War’ album review

Craig Finn I Need a New War The Hold Steady solo album 2019

The Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn shares new album ‘I Need a New War’, a record he claims to be the final part of a trilogy of collections of songs about the smaller moments in life: people trying to find connections and stay afloat financially and emotionally in today’s world.

Each song focuses on a different character and how they react to the challenges put in front of them. The killer guitar hook of recent single ‘Blankets’ opens the album as Craig goes on to talk in detail about a loving relationship that fell apart: ‘I met her at a race track, it was right before a concert’; ‘I found a saviour then I lost him. Had a kid and all the rest.’ It finishes with Craig capturing this character’s negative thoughts and worries: ‘You get the feeling you’re too small’. The stabbed keyboard, duelling brass and stop-start bass line of ‘Magic Marker’ will also capture your attention as Craig looks at some more contentious characters (‘The guy who took the money, with a fish hook in his mouth’) and experiences including getting ‘pistol-whipped in Portland’

There’s a calmer feeling running through ‘A Bathtub in the Kitchen’, although the storytelling narrative is packed with intrigue and intelligence: ‘That’s the funny thing about people moving in the big cities. They spend so much time trying to turn it into their tiny town’. This song is based around a guy named Francis and his wise words (‘tip big on the first round’) and also touches upon the importance that New York City has played in his and all of the other characters referenced’s lives.

‘Indications’ opens with a Wurlitzer-style waltz feel before evolving into something akin to a jam session between Burt Bacharach and Adam Green as Craig talks about a friend who’s been admitted to hospital: ‘I hope you’ll commit to stay on that new medication’. The album title is a key moment of the atmospheric ‘Grant at Galena’, a slower song packed with intricate guitar work and atmospheric, meaningful lyrics about living through the bad times: ‘They sent me some letters. I did my best to ignore them. I couldn’t make the payments so they sat there unopened. They cut off the power but I still got the water’; ‘The city didn’t work’.

The emotion of Springsteen’s more introspective moments rings throughout the record, especially with the way Craig references destinations e.g. on ‘Holyoke’s opening line: ‘Massachusetts, man, you’ve got a lot more graveyards than we’re used to’. The character in this song also has anxiety and addiction issues, but possibly not with the kind of things you’d expect: ‘Once I start on something, I get obsessed about the ending, like once we start a show we watch every single episode’. This is then followed up with a witty line about credits (and one that rings true with so many of us): ‘Fast-forward through the theme song, they always take too long’. The jaunty and upbeat ’60s-tinged music of the closing ‘Anne Marie & Shane’ does its best to mark the couple’s toxicity: ‘Anne Marie, she loves Shane so much. Sometimes Shane can get a little rough’; ‘Anne Marie’s dancing while Shane gets pissed’.

This is a record full of people and situations you can associate with, even if you’ve never visited the city that never sleeps. It’s richly detailed and drawn and proves once again that Craig Finn is one of our finest storytellers.

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