Evolution and a Prophecy of Survival in Craig Finn’s “We All Want The Same Things.”
The disjointed opening seconds of Craig Finn’s new record We All Want The Same Things are harried, panicked and weird — the sounds struggling survival.
The record begins with jungly drums and a screaming trumpet — an opening statement that creates an immediate air of tension and fear, ands is sure to raise some eyebrows. But before listeners are even twenty seconds into “Jester and June,” the singer-songwriter is back on turf longtime fans will find familiar, bulldozing listeners with rambling lyrics about some bartender’s drug-dealing friend. “Hail Caesar,” he commands, a note of cool relief in his voice. “The guy we’ve been waiting for.”
This tension establishes the consistently rich, complex tone of We All Want The Same Things: luscious soundscapes, the likes of which have not before been traversed by the typically guitar-and-piano reliant Finn, laced with spellbinding lyrical stories about seedy but warm Midwestern characters, struggling with addiction, despair and the other plagues of lower and middle class American life.
Finn is fond of referring to his songs as “codependency jams,” and righteously so. We All Want the Same Things is rife with groovy, musically upbeat jams in ways no other Finn project has been to date. Littered with oscillating bleeps and bloops, “Birds Trapped in the Airport” is held together by pulsing drum machines, and “Tracking Shots” is the wall-to-wall high-octane Americana rocker that The Killers frontman Brandon Flowers has only dreamed of penning for one of his solo records. For Chrissakes, the record’s lead single “Preludes” puts a goddamn flute riff front and center. While We All Want The Same Things is musically unique for Finn, there’s no question — it’s musically unique, period.
But, as per usual with this stem-winding songwriter, this sugary sonic sundae is topped with a heaping lyrical pile of desolate landscapes and desperate characters; the stories and subjects of We All Want The Same Things are a culmination of Finn’s two-decade long career. In “Ninety Bucks,” a girl trusts Popov in paper cups to “burn her insides clean;” in the artful, spoken word and piano piece “God in Chicago,” a down-on-his-luck blue collar narrator morbidly handles his dead friend’s estate by getting rid of the drugs he left behind and wandering The Windy City with his mourning sister.
These are songs about flailing, lost lower and middle class Americans and the modern plagues of their lives. “Tangletown” even has a lyric about taxes.
While Finn flirts with the political more than ever before on We All Want The Same Things, his lyrical intentions never stray from what’s become classically Finn. Even at the moments that come closest to being overtly political — which are truly few, though in our politics-saturated zeitgeist they’re sure to be yanked from their contexts and analyzed ad nauseam — the songs of We All Want The Same Things are, at their core, about people; the record’s heart is too big for politics. And though critics will inevitably read too much into the closing lines of the seminal record-ender “Be Honest,” reaching for low-hanging, readymade political analysis disservices listeners and reduces Finn’s talents to trite commentary. The Hold Steady frontman possesses one of the most unique and insightful voices in alternative music today; he deserves more, and We All Want The Same Things demands it.
And the reality is that Finn isn’t easily reduced, anyway; his music has never been political when it can be better understood as philosophical, his message has never been concise when it can instead be encompassing. This is an artist who would never reserve the most poignant moments of this excellent record for predictable, conventional political clichés; he’d rather remind us of that which unites rather than that which divides.
And so these songs aren’t about our country. They’re about us.
We All Want The Same Things is as much as sonic evolution as it is a lyrical career culmination. While he’s never before made music that sounds like this, Finn’s long penned songs that say what he’s saying on this record. It’s the special, rare work of art that makes blue-collar desperation feel familiar and warm, and thus, temporary — or at least survivable.
With songs like these, anything’s survivable.