Craig Finn - All These Perfect Crosses Music Album Reviews

Craig Finn - All These Perfect Crosses Music Album Reviews
With a collection of outtakes, demos, and acoustic reworkings from his three previous solo records, the Hold Steady frontman re-examines familiar characters from new angles.

The universe of Craig Finn meshes together imperfectly, like multiple exposures overlaid in the same frame. Its signposts take the form of proper nouns: names, cities, bars, car brands. Occasionally these recur, but in Finn’s recent work they’re more often blurred vignettes—a dancer with a penchant for violence, a troubled former child star, a drug dealer with a vengeance. Finn seems keenly aware of the character details; as the frontman of the Hold Steady, he’s built a career on codifying rambunctious personas in his band’s shout-along choruses. The more intimate lyrics in his solo work extend those characters’ narratives, building on existing frameworks without crafting wholly new stories. “I guess I felt...that visiting them for a song at a time might be more interesting than putting them through a number of phases,” he said after the release of 2019’s I Need a New War. On All These Perfect Crosses, a Record Store Day collection of outtakes, demos, and acoustic reworkings from his three previous solo records, he returns to the small towns and smaller relationships he’s built over the past five years, carving notches in the edge of the puzzle where he can affix new pieces.
But the shift from the Hold Steady—with whom Finn has continued to release rowdy, closing-time anthems—to his solo work was not always so natural. The sparsely recorded songs on 2015’s Faith in the Future almost felt like unfinished demos, the room tone in “Going to a Show” almost loud enough to swallow his guitars. He wanted to write small stories, but his meekness suggested he didn’t know how to recede gracefully. By 2017’s We All Want the Same Things, he’d refined his approach, adding harmonies from Annie Nero and Cassandra Jenkins and the occasional wind instrument to create an appropriately bluesy atmosphere for his already dispirited lyrics.

The retakes and outtakes on All These Perfect Crosses bring his past three records together into more perfect harmony. The parenthetical “Horn Version” of 2017’s “God in Chicago” casts the striking spoken-word journey in elegiac sepia tones. The somber, scorched piano-and-guitar ballad “They Know Where I Live,” originally offered in an EP accompanying Faith in the Future, draws a straight line between that record’s stripped-back approach and the bolder instrumentation of We All Want the Same Things. But on a record with only one brand-new entry, it’s the acoustic versions of songs from Finn’s previous two albums that feel most revitalized. “Magic Marker,” a sauntering blues crooner complete with tambourine hits and brassy horns, is reimagined as coffeehouse folk, the finger-picked guitar a fittingly pensive accompaniment for reminiscences on late nights and wasted youths.

On I Need a New War, Finn wrote about the life of Ulysses S. Grant and the ennui that follows triumph. When the big war, the new album, the cross-country tour is over, what’s left except to rehash the glory days? Judging by “All These Perfect Crosses,” the only new song on the album, solo Finn continues to be, as he sang on I Need A New War, “Grant at Galena,” taking stock of his life over a stiff drink in western Illinois. Backed by the minor piano chords that have become a familiar palette, he sings haltingly about a dead-end romance between two old friends, a pair who are empathetic but mismatched. “It’s hard to force yourself to fall in love with friends,” he sings, voice ticking up a bit mid-sentence, as if struck by its depressing irony. It’s another new relationship in Finn’s grand narrative patchwork, but its pieces match—the lover’s name is Cindy, who we’ve previously met as a name scrawled in a bathroom stall on We All Want the Same Things. Even as he revisits old wounds, Finn’s world-weary explorations continue to reveal new vantage points.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Craig Finn - All These Perfect Crosses Music Album Reviews Craig Finn - All These Perfect Crosses Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, September 09, 2020 Rating:

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