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Review – Craig Finn “Clear Heart Full Eyes”

Hold Steady head honcho Craig Finn’s solo debut “Clear Heart Full Eyes” is an earnest but flawed slab of bland pop rock.
Clear Heart Full Eyes was released on Vagrant records on January 24.
Image by Photo courtesy Vagrant
“Clear Heart Full Eyes” was released on Vagrant records on January 24.

Artist: Craig Finn


Album: âÄúClear Heart Full EyesâÄù

Label: Vagrant Records

Release Date: Tuesday, Jan 24 

After the Hold SteadyâÄôs fifth LP, the forgettable âÄúHeaven is Whenever,âÄù it seemed like front man Craig FinnâÄôs beer-drenched melodrama had finally run its course.

With the arrival of his first solo album âÄúClear Heart Full Eyes,âÄù indieâÄôs most beloved back-alley poet has discovered a new pulpit for his nostalgic, Christ-laden tirades, returning with 11 tracks of mid-tempo pop rock.

ItâÄôs evident that FinnâÄôs finally woken up from his booze-induced slumber, but does the Minneapolis transplant still, well, have it?

ThereâÄôs an understated quality coursing through the entirety of âÄúClear Heart Full Eyes.âÄù The Hold Steady diehards wonâÄôt be treated to any rip-roaring guitar solos or barroom anthems, but FinnâÄôs nervous-slacker persona is as realized as ever. While the album might tread some less ambitious sonic territory, FinnâÄôs lyrics explore tired themes, offering new tales of lost love, betrayal and old friends.

And Finn doesnâÄôt shy from being self-referential either, oftentimes recycling familiar lines from his own personal tableau. The recordâÄôs strewn with narratives that include back halves of theaters and nods to âÄô70âÄôs icons like Johnny Rotten and Freddie Mercury.

On the albumâÄôs highlight track âÄúJackson,âÄù listeners get quintessential Finn as he sings: âÄúStephanie was long on looks but short on mental health / said depression is an ocean and itâÄôs prone to tides and swells / anxietyâÄôs persistent itâÄôs an ambitious politician / it keeps knocking on your door until you come and let it in.âÄù

From the Bible-thumping country rock of âÄúNew Friend JesusâÄù to the airtight machismo of âÄúHonolulu Blues,âÄù Finn proves that he can take the wheel without the help of his bar-hopping cohorts.

While there are some memorable moments on âÄúClear Heart Full Eyes,âÄù overall, the album is too bland and unimaginative to consider it on par with even the most mediocre of the Hold SteadyâÄôs material. The timid âÄúWhen no oneâÄôs WatchingâÄù finds Finn at his dullest lyrically, collapsing in a din of anti-climactic rattle as he sings, âÄúShe told me what you told her about how you really loved her / that youâÄôre the hero when no oneâÄôs watching.âÄù

Overall, âÄúClear Heart Full EyesâÄù just sounds undeveloped, phoned-in even. While itâÄôs unreasonable to expect the album to deliver the same kind of punch as the Hold Steady, it does little to compel or entice. And when it does, itâÄôs all over far too soon.

2.5 out of 4 stars

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