Wednesday, March 12, 2014

And Now for Something Completely Different

In January 2012, Craig Finn - lead singer of The Hold Steady - released a solo album, Clear Heart Full Eyes. I was listening to it just now. But, as enjoyable as that album is, I wonder why Finn decided to go solo in the first instance? It wasn't like he'd quit his day job; The Hold Steady are still alive and well here in 2014. In fact, they've got a new album out later this month.

They also recorded a song for Game of Thrones, somewhat incongruously.

Finn himself stated that he wanted to "break habits" and do something that was "a little more storytelling and a lot less volume". But The Hold Steady are one of the storytellingest bands on the scene - from a lyrical perspective, Clear Heart... is business as usual for Craig Finn. It's got drugs, religion, America, break-ups, rock music, and many colourful characters who are teetering on the brink of something or other.

Except it's not business as usual at all.

Hold Steady fans will be familiar with Holly, Gideon, and Charlemagne - these three characters were the main players in the universe that Finn & Co. spent three or four albums sculpting, and their names pop up countless times among all the riffin' and a-hollerin'. It's one of my favourite things about The Hold Steady, the way in which all of their songs seem to be interconnected; it's like the band's whole discography is one big concept album.

But you'd be forgiven for thinking that The Hold Steady are done with that universe. 2010's Heaven is Whenever - which, until Teeth Dreams comes out on the 25th, is still the latest Hold Steady album - was a bit of a sea change, in that it was the first full Hold Steady LP that didn't contain a single mention of Holly, Gideon, or Charlemagne. Finn suggested in an interview that the characters were still present, even if they weren't mentioned by name, but I wonder if he was kinda tired of singing about the same old people.

And if that was the case, that could well be where Clear Heart Full Eyes came from. Craig Finn, on a break from The Hold Steady, decided that he wanted to play some new songs with some new people, and while he wasn't ready to abandon his usual themes, he did want to release something that people would listen to without waiting for a mention of that Halleluiah chick.

Hence, Clear Heart... is a clean slate, where Finn rustles up a brand new universe from scratch. Instead of Charlemagne and Holly, we get Jackson and Stephanie:

This is what separates Clear Heart Full Eyes from the usual 'gone solo' fare; it's not just a stopgap, it's not just a one-off foray into foreign musical territory (although, Finn's vocals aside, this album does sound distinctly unlike The Hold Steady), it's a bona fide other project, the start of something completely different.

All of which would have been easier to type if there was any evidence of a follow-up on the horizon. Yeah, we're all very excited about the new Hold Steady album, but when will be getting a new Craig Finn album?

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