After he made his name as the exuberant frontman for The Hold Steady, Craig Finn’s songwriting as a solo artist naturally had to turn in a more somber direction. The stories that Finn sings in The Hold Steady are propelled by the band’s energy, particularly his songwriting counterpart and guitarist Tad Kubler. Here, as on 2012’s Clear Heart Full Eyes, the pacing rests entirely with Finn, and the words truly take over.
Finn’s solo songs are outside the world and the mythology of The Hold Steady, and with that freedom, his lyrics mostly do away with the killer parties and massive nights. Recorded with producer Josh Kaufman in Woodstock, the music here is more folk than rock, and though he remains as detail oriented as ever, Finn’s songwriting takes a different character and tone. He arranges details in the quiet spaces, and the turns of phrase that might get drowned out by louder songs resonate powerfully.
The subject matter from the 44-year-old Finn is more adult, darker, and weary, shaded with the burden of bigger consequences. But where the vignette songs on Clear Heart carved out more of their own territory, the songs on Faith In The Future hang closer together, pivoting around common themes. The clearest and steadiest involve loss, sorrow, and perseverance, but there’s also a thread of searching for meaning, or more precisely, some confirmation that what’s been clung to all along is truly what’s important. The title responds to all that with a dose of comforting, long-view optimism that stands as strong as any doubts.
In album opener “Maggie I’ve Been Searching For Our Son,” the story focuses on a drifter, a bit empty and a bit exhausted, but certain enough that life has some answers to keep steady in his search.
Finn writes specifically about 9/11 on “Newmyer’s Roof,” a song named for the place where he watched the towers fall. It’s a song about disorientation, about trying to hang onto normalcy, knowing that one day when darkness recedes, life again will be made up of all the little familiar details.
“Going To A Show” is the album’s most direct song, about a man now in his 40s out at a show, the same sort of night he’s chased and craved and inhabited for half his life. Some nights it’s different enough to seem like a foreign experience, but once in a while the discovery of a new favorite band is enough to transcend all the nostalgia and deliver the same life-changing moments as they did decades before.
Finn wrote most of the songs in the period after his mother died in 2013, and while there are no lyrics directly addressing the loss, the album’s final song, “I Was Doing Fine (Then A Few People Died),” serves as an upbeat coda that emphasizes the enduring hopefulness of Faith In The Future. Finn has been a steady presence and celebrated songwriter for more than a decade, and even more clearly than his first solo record, Faith In The Future points to an ongoing, fruitful artistic evolution.