Tag Archive | "The Hold Steady"

Craig Finn – Clear Heart Full Eyes

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Craig Finn – Clear Heart Full Eyes

Posted on 30 January 2012 by Dorian

I really wanted to love the debut album by The Hold Steady’s front-man Craig Finn. I loved The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday and Boys And Girls In America are two of my favourite albums and seeing the band live was one of the best gigs I have had the privilege to attend. For me the band’s last two albums offered increasingly diminishing returns, seldom returning to my stereo, and although I still liked the band the love was starting to fade. I had high hopes for Clear Heart Full Eyes, I thought that it was the kind of change Finn needed to rediscover his mojo and get back to his best work. Unfortunately I don’t love the record, it is a competent enough album, but it just isn’t quite good enough.

Clear Heart Full Eyes

People will listen to this record and applaud Finn for making a big stylistic change from the sounds that you associate with his band. There are no big rock riffs on the record,  but the problem is that it is essentially the same kind of record he has made before with a more rootsy instrumental arrangement. The songs are very well played and the arrangements are good, it is just that they aren’t that exciting or memorable. The third song, ‘No Future’, is most like The Hold Steady but sounds like it would have been filler on even their latter albums.

‘New Friend Jesus’ is fine enough, a bouncy backing and some good lyrical couplets, but it really doesn’t add much to the country music catalogue. Other acts have done this kind of thing much better.  It also emphasises another weakness, Finn’s vocals. I don’t expect my singers to be pitch perfect or have X-Factor style booming voices, I’m a fan of The Fall’s Mark E Smith, but in front of this kind of trad rock backing Finn’s vocals seem thin. Something they never did over the more aggressive and hard edged sounds on the best Hold Steady tracks.

Craig Finn is too good to make a wholly bad album, and there are some good aspects to this album. The lyrics are of his typically high standard and each song is an interesting story, populated by the usual array of characters. It is also, within the trad format, a pretty varied album stylistically and the band he has assembled for the album are clearly an accomplished bunch.

If you really love the work of Craig Finn, and like the idea of his songs played  in a trad-rock style then you’ll probably love this album. If, like me, you want to hear The Hold Steady back at their best then the hope is that this album has got something out of Finn ‘s system and he can bring his best back to the Hold Steady next time around.

6/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Franz Nicolay – Major General

Posted on 17 September 2010 by Joe

As opening tracks go ‘Jeff Penalty’, on the solo debut from The Hold Steady keyboardist Franz Nicolay, is a stormer.

This unusual tribute to the former singer with the reformed Dead Kennedys is an instant classic, through both the raw energy of Nicolay’s backing band The Dementers and the bittersweet lyrics recounting Jeff’s tough time following in the footsteps of Dead Kennedy’s legendary original frontman Jello Biafra.

“I’m sorry Jeff what’s his name if we didn’t take you serious,” says Nicolay apologetically, before adding by way of solace,”but the punks all still sang along and we got to the chorus.”

The rest of the album is nowhere near as good as this opener, but still offers a solid collection of songs from Nicolay, who in The Hold Steady spends much of the time in the shadows of lead song writer and singer Craig Finn.

Indeed there is much on Major General that would not look out of place on a Hold Steady album. As well as ‘Jeff Penalty’, these include the slow love song  ‘World/Inferno Vs the End of the Evening’, the raw and sweary ‘Confession of An Ineffective Casanova’ and ‘Quiet Where I Lie’, another track that perfectly recreates the Hold Steady’s Bruce Springsteen-meets-punk sound.

Another plus is Nicolay’s emphasis on guitar rather than keyboards for the most part.

There are faults. Some of the songs don’t share the passion of the likes of ‘Jeff Penalty’. And fillers such as ‘Dead Sailors’ and ‘Do We Not Live in Dreams’, owe far too much to the worlds of lounge and jazz.

Also Nicolay’s voice in places only just manages to stay on the right side of Meatloaf, especially on ‘Hey Dad!’.

But while Nicolay may look like Bob Hoskins as Super Mario, with his moustache and beret, Major General is no oddity reserved only for Hold Steady completists. This is an accomplished first album that with faults and all will hopefully find a far wider audience.

6.5/10

by Joe Lepper, Mar 2009

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