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Craig Finn - A Legacy of Rentals Music Album Reviews

Craig Finn - A Legacy of Rentals Music Album Reviews
On his latest solo collection, the Hold Steady frontman summons vast emotions from different points along the way to rock bottom.

Jimmy Webb was taking a solitary drive when he came up with the idea for “Wichita Lineman,” one of the loneliest, most romantic songs in the history of pop music. As the young songwriter watched endless phone lines passing along the highway, he noticed a lone figure working among them and considered what might be going through his head, way up among the clouds. “Look there’s this great soul, and there’s this great aching, and this great loneliness inside this person and we’re all like that,” Webb reflected decades later. “We all have this capacity for these huge feelings.”

Craig Finn seems to reach a similar conclusion wherever he goes—and he goes to some pretty depressing places. On his latest solo album, A Legacy of Rentals, the 50-year-old songwriter summons vast emotions from different points along the way to rock bottom. In “Break From the Barrage,” our protagonist is passed out drunk and alone at a superhero matinee in a movie theater at a suburban mall. In “The Year We Fell Behind,” a couple is despondent and overmedicated in their neglected home, where the air grows thick with houseflies and unspoken resentment. In the closing song, the narrator stands among the wreckage after a wild party and surveys the destruction: “This is what it looks like when we’re joyful,” he reminds himself.

Taking inspiration from songs like “Wichita Lineman,” Finn worked with producer Josh Kaufman to coat the music in a sweet, sentimental glow that adds a layer of longing and wonder to his solitary stories. It is his first release to prominently feature strings—a 14-piece orchestra arranged by Trey Pollard at Richmond, Virginia’s Spacebomb studio. And although they have worked together in the past, Cassandra Jenkins’ presence feels newly crucial to the push-and-pull of these narratives. In elaborate story-songs like “Messing With the Settings” and “A Break From the Barrage,” she adds bursts of melody between the desperate spirals of Finn’s spoken-word delivery; on a more traditional ballad like “The Year We Fell Behind,” their voices fall into a kind of round, reaching a climax in the closing 90 seconds that feels uniquely beautiful within his catalog.

Granted, the word “beautiful” means something different in these songs than any of Finn’s past records. With his most recognizable project, the Hold Steady, acoustic instruments and tender subject matter often appeared like intermissions—a moment to catch your breath, to briefly let in the light to see what these characters were blocking out with their reckless behavior and emotional grandeur. A Legacy of Rentals follows what Finn has called a trilogy of solo records—2015’s Faith in the Future, 2017’s We All Want the Same Things, and 2019’s I Need a New War—and it feels like a fresh start, building from those albums’ increasingly adventurous sound and their turn toward unglamorous, real-life characters.

The writing remains the main attraction in Finn’s work, and both as a storyteller and a rock songwriter, he has never sounded more in control. From the beginning, he had a gift for meticulous, vivid world-building, and his wordplay has gotten tighter as his subjects have come down to earth: “He dreams of sweeping vistas/And machines that sweep the streets,” goes a line in “Curtis & Shepard,” which tells us everything we need to know about the central character’s suffocating lifestyle. Riding a groovy bassline and drum loop that finds the middle ground between “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Streets of Philadelphia,” the density of his rhymes builds with the music, bringing us into the character’s mind as opposed to merely narrating the view.

In a 2021 interview, about a year after lockdown first started, Finn discussed the way it had impacted his songwriting, which for so long was based on traveling and meeting people—hearing their stories, leaving his comfort zone, following conversations to surprising ends. In a press release for the album, he notes that his partner is a hospital nurse, and in the early stages of the pandemic, he was advised to live separately from her to avoid contamination. Coupled with the deaths of several close friends during this time, the circumstances led to an uncommonly dark collection in his body of work, which often strives for hope, celebration, and community. These days, he’s more likely just to shut the blinds and go back to bed: “When the devil starts to show up in your dreams/Then it’s hard to get your dreams back,” he observes sadly in “The Amarillo Kid.”

And yet, “The Amarillo Kid” is one of the most upbeat songs here, with the kind of hummable, singalong chorus that Finn usually reserves for the Hold Steady. The same way his writing is dense with layers and allusions—note each use of the term “fish tank,” and the perspective from which each character observes it—the music often complicates his message, creating a new source of tension. I keep returning to those closing moments of “The Year We Fell Behind,” where Finn and Jenkins’ voices build to a haunted call-and-response. “The devil makes his money on the small moves,” she sings. “All at once has never been his style.” In the background, the strings crescendo toward a happy ending but the chords never resolve for too long, creating the effect of a never-ending stairwell. On any given listen, you might imagine their voices climbing upward or tumbling down, growing increasingly in sync or drifting apart. Finn knows the truth is always somewhere in between.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Craig Finn - A Legacy of Rentals Music Album Reviews Craig Finn - A Legacy of Rentals Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, May 31, 2022 Rating: 5

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