Craig Finn, “We All Want the Same Things”

Craig Finn
We All Want the Same Things
PARTISAN
8/10

Hold Steady albums are like amalgamations of memories you’re not quite sure you actually experienced. Characters drift through them like dreams, and more often than not they’re fucked up—either emotionally or through drinks and drugs, and often a combination of both, which is presumably why those memories are always hazy. Yet on We All Want the Same Things, Craig Finn’s third solo record, there seems to be more clarity than usual.

That’s nowhere more evident than in “God in Chicago,” a slow-tempo, piano-based tune that’s almost like a Bukowski or Fante story set to music. Finn recalls a melancholy road trip/drug deal that shimmers with regret and purpose as the narrator drives off with a late friend’s sister to settle some “unfinished business.” It’s peppered with little details that bring the scene fully to life, lines that would work equally well on the page as out of the speakers: “[We] played 1999 into Led Zeppelin III / When the tape deck got all wobbly, she still sang the harmonies.” There’s no neat ending to the tale, no moral to extract from it, just a perfectly imperfect moment to get lost in before life speeds away in a different direction.

The other nine songs are all equally intriguing slices of life. “It Hits When It Hits” and “Tangletown” chug along with a dreamy lethargy, while “Birds Trapped in the Airport” gathers pace to become a War on Drugs/Dire Straits–esque celebration of life despite everything it throws in your face. Its lush textures are indicative of the production that defines the whole album, and it’s that which really makes the album stand apart from anything either Finn or The Hold Steady have released before.

But at the same time, We All Want the Same Things is quintessential Craig Finn, the work of a songwriter who excels at telling other people’s stories as if they were his own. It might take a few spins for diehards to fall in love with, but the warmth and solace these songs provide make it hard to resist. A more than welcome addition to—and expansion of—Finn’s catalog.

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