Craig Finn: We All Want the Same Things

Craig Finn's new album continues to differentiate his solo material from the Hold Steady, but without Tad Kubler's guitar heroics as a buffer, his lyrics can be pretty harrowing.

Craig Finn

We All Want the Same Things

Label: Partisan
US Release Date: 2017-03-24
UK Release Date: 2017-03-24

On We All Want the Same Things Craig Finn continues to carve out a niche as a solo artist distinct from his band the Hold Steady. This album, his third, feels like a natural progression from 2015’s Faith in the Future, and it’s probably no coincidence that it was also produced by Josh Kaufman. Finn continues to tell his stories in his usual sing-speak style, but sonically he keeps the music low-key. Even when the songs here go uptempo, Finn stays away from the big, crunchy guitar riffs that give the Hold Steady its punch. Instead, he uses a lot of piano and accents it with quiet horn accompaniments and occasional female backing vocals.

Those musical arrangements are critical to separating Finn songs from Hold Steady songs. Finn’s style of lyrics and vocals stay constant regardless of the project, but the Hold Steady’s songwriting starts with guitarist Tad Kubler. Finn seems to make a conscious choice to do something different as a solo songwriter, and how well that pays off may depend on the listener’s engagement level with Finn, the storyteller. There aren’t a lot of sing along songs on Finn’s solo albums; he tends to dig into the nitty-gritty of lower and lower-middle class lives and find pathos with those characters.

If anything, We All Want the Same Things’ combination of storytelling lyrics and arrangements centered on piano and soft horns recalls the quieter moments on latter-day Mountain Goats albums. “It Hits When it Hits” is a good example of this. Skeletal piano chords and quiet woodwinds provide the atmosphere to Finn’s sad tale of a man who falls in love after a one-night stand. He keeps repeating statements like “I can tell that today / Is gonna be a celebration” and “One thing I’ve heard about love is / It hits when it hits.” But Finn’s mumbly, hangdog delivery and his accounts of the woman’s reactions (“I can see you’re suspicious / You say you barely know me”) show that she isn’t nearly as sure as the man. It’s an interesting song, but Finn’s delivery and the nearly two minutes of sad outro music make it a real downer on an album that isn’t exactly full of light. Closer “Be Honest” has a similar arrangement, full of mellow bass clarinet, trumpet long tones, and warm piano chords. But Finn has a lot more energy on this one, which makes his tale of past mistakes and making up for them a whole lot more pleasant. His concluding line, “Maybe it’s best / If we both take care of ourselves” finishes the album on a relatively positive note.

The record’s other notable piano song is “God in Chicago”, which finds Finn speaking his way through the song’s story. That’s a first for him, but it’s a compelling tale, and the simple piano chords and drums give the song a solid musicality. It helps that there is a chorus of sorts, where Finn and Annie Nero sing a duet mid-song to break up the narration. While this is technically a departure for Finn, the main difference between his vocal style on this song and, say, a Hold Steady classic like “How a Resurrection Really Feels” is his energy level. This story is about a couple of people making a road trip to Chicago in the midst of mourning (his friend, her brother), so the tone is contemplative and muted, and that feels appropriate for the story.

Elsewhere on the album are some (slightly) more upbeat tracks. “Rescue Blues” is a mid-tempo song with a bit of a bounce to it, as the narrator describes his codependent relationship with Janie. He’s found safety and comfort at her place (“I overestimate / Make mistakes sometime / Owe money to some other guys / Safest if I stay inside”), she hasn’t had a boyfriend since her husband died in 1999. Their relationship seems mostly convenient, but the narrator concludes he’s way more invested in it now than when they started. “Tangletown” has a feather-light country-rock tone to it, complete with echoing guitars and trumpet/baritone sax accents. But the lyrics take on another codependent relationship, as Finn’s verses explore each person’s viewpoint. The woman uses the man for “finer things” like going out to fancy restaurants and sleeping at his nice house and taking wine with her when she goes. The man likes to “try to hang around some finer things”, like having an attractive young woman around to help distract him from his divorce and failing financial situation. Despite this, he hates the restaurants she chooses and is sad and lonely when she’s inevitably gone in the morning.

“Preludes” and “Tracking Shots” are the record’s two genuinely positive-sounding songs. In “Preludes” Finn reflects (semi-fictionally) about returning to St. Paul, Minnesota, after college and finding that everything is oddly different. In this story, the narrator is saved from a drunk driving accident by driving into a snow bank and later is spared from being killed by deciding to cooperate with a mugger. He concludes, “God watches us,” which is at least a nice sentiment. The music is driven by an upbeat hi-hat and snare rhythm, strummy guitar, and a catchy little flute riff. “Tracking Shots” is a real rocker or at least as close as this album gets to it. Finn sings about parking lots and other mundane locations as the places where life really happens. Meanwhile the drums pound along while guitar, piano, organ, and bass all chug. The trumpet and bari sax even come back to fill in a nice horn line.

We All Want the Same Things is a solid Craig Finn release. If you are a Finn fan jonesing for more of his idiosyncratic storytelling while waiting to see if the Hold Steady reunites with spark plug keyboardist Franz Nicolay for a new album, this record will scratch that itch. The Mountain Goats comparison is inescapable (at least it was for me), although the similarity in arrangements between this album and Transcendental Youth and Beat the Champ mostly serve to illustrate how good John Darnielle is at writing catchy, melodic songs in whatever format he chooses. Finn has succeeded in differentiating his solo material from his Hold Steady work, but sometimes I wonder if his low-key musical approach highlights the depressing nature of his storytelling a bit too much. But most listeners know what they’re signing up for with Finn at this point.







'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.


Hip-Hop's Raashan Ahmad Talks About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.


Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.


The Chad Taylor Trio Get Funky and Fiery on 'The Daily Biological'

A nimble jazz power trio of drums, tenor sax, and piano, the Chad Taylor Trio is free and fun, funky and fiery on The Daily Biological.


Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.


In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?


Maestro Gamin and Aeks' Latest EP Delivers LA Hip-Hop Cool (premiere + interview)

MaestroAeks' Sapodigo is a collection of blunted hip-hop tunes, sometimes nudging a fulsome boom-bap and other times trading on laid-back, mellow grooves.


Soul Blues' Sugaray Rayford Delivers a "Homemade Disaster" (premiere + Q&A)

What was going to be a year of touring and building Sugaray Rayford's fanbase has turned into a year of staying home and reaching out to fans from his Arizona home.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.