Craig Finn – I Need a New War

The Hold Steady's Craig Finn rests a hand on the shoulder of those struggling to make sense of a world that seems to be changing faster than they can adapt

Album Review by Fraser MacIntyre | 24 Apr 2019
  • Craig Finn – I Need a New War
Album title: I Need a New War
Artist: Craig Finn
Label: Partisan Records
Release date: 26 Apr

The title of Craig Finn’s fourth solo record, I Need a New War, is taken from a lyric in the track Grant At Galena. Grant is a veteran, struggling to make ends meet in an America that has – in his absence – undergone changes both minor and astronomical. He cracks the same jokes he used to, but nobody wants to hear them. Setting out for the store when 'supplies get depleted', Grant is a drifting soldier in need of a new war to offer him meaningful direction. As he prays for a dead bird, we realise that the increasingly disenchanted man ('my old friends are fine but their new friends are freaks') just wants to be of use.

Finn doesn’t present his characters as heroes and villains, he's interested in the particulars of how they got to the place they’re at when he finds them; observing rather than pointing fingers. He emphasises how disorientating life can become as politics, technology and personal circumstances grow (somehow) even more complex than they already were, and the importance of offering a helping hand to those in danger of slipping out of view. He complicates this by also showing the perils of doing so: 'Francis, is there some way to help that's not just handing you money?'

Magic Marker modestly addresses our present uncertainty: 'Everybody’s talking about the president / And me, I’m never sure what I should say'. Finn’s characters are, in his own words, “trying not to get left behind” while bravely reaching out to each other even though they’ve been burned many times before.

The Hold Steady (and Lifter Puller) frontman has always empathised with difficult, confused and wounded individuals who have reached for the American dream and missed. Something To Hope For could address dozens of his characters. 'You’ve been hurt so much you’re bored / I wanna give you something to hope for', Finn sings over triumphant horns and soulful backing vocals. His band mesmerise throughout; a delicate slide guitar accentuating the quiet sorrow of Finn's protagonist on Carmen Isn't Coming In Today to devastating effect.

Approaching the end of the record, only one thing feels missing. A mystifying gem, a God in Chicago. One of those songs that feel like they must've been plucked out of some mystical realm of certified spine-tinglers already mixed and mastered. This record's is the sublime Holyoke. Close your eyes listening to Her With the Blues and you’ll be surprised not to find yourself on a New York sidewalk when you open them again: 'You with the camera / Backpack and walking shoes / Taking pictures of garbage cans / This is where people live'.

Funny and devastating – often at the same time – I Need a New War rests a hand on the shoulder of those struggling to make sense of a world that seems to be changing faster than they can adapt. It’s a record about moving forward, appreciating "tiny triumphs" and staying open. It may also be Finn's most timely release to date.

Listen to: Her With the Blues, A Bathtub In the Kitchen, Holyoke