Album Review: Craig Finn – I Need a New War

Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn has released the final of a triology showcasing his stellar songwriting.

Finn has described I Need a New War as the third and final part of a trilogy including 2015’s Faith in the Future and 2017’s We All Want the Same Things. Plating up his view of America in a whirl of detailed characterization and the songwriting and lyricsm we know and love him for, on I Need A New War Finn talks about the every day America, the America where people try to make sense of struggle, loss, religion and more.

“The first week of 2018, I entered Isokon Studio with Josh Kaufman and Joe Russo to start work on I Need A New War. Going in, I saw this record as the third part of a trilogy. Thematically, this was the third group of songs that I had written about smaller moments — people trying to stay afloat in modern times, attempting to find connection, achieving tiny triumphs and frustrating let downs in their day to day lives.” says Finn about the record.

“And more so than any of my previous records, these songs turn the lens on New York City — my home for the last 18 years. NYC itself is a city of constant change, throwing its own considerable weight on the people who live there. A number of these songs reflect on the inevitability of the city’s forward motion.” he continues.

There’s a comfortable uncomfortableness about the record. The warm and homey melodies wrap beautifully around sometimes heartbreaking lyrics. Heartbreaking because the stories are relatable, are a mirror and are something we know happens in real life. I Need A New War isn’t a fantasy world, it takes our messed up, confusing world and puts it into lyrics and sounds.

Grant At Galana, the track whose line gave the album its title, is, like many songs on this album, wonderfully mellow and with a touch of jazz influences makes it sound grand. While in this song war is only a metaphor, in Magic Maker, it is very much reality. Telling us the story about a soldier returning from Desert Storm and finding it hard to find “something to hold on to”. And this full-fledged story packed into just under four minutes also tackles a topic that many Americans try to avoid – injured veterans and the lack of care and re-integration they deal with.

“The characters in these songs put forth varying responses to the change happening around them. They deal with the inevitability of getting older, while trying not to get left behind. They try to get by. They move to bigger cities. They crawl back home. They look for love. They look for escape. They seek help. They seek answers. They formulate plans. They try to outlive past mistakes.” Finn explains and if you listen all the way through I Need A New War it’s spot on. It’s a treasure chest of stories we have all heard before.

To sum it up, in the words of Finn himself: “To me, the end result both connects to the previous two records and also sets itself apart – the three albums together look at the same people, but from different angles. Faith in the Future is an album about perseverance, trusting that salvation is ahead if you work and believe. We All Want The Same Things is about making connections with other people, trying to form bonds and partnerships to help rise above the mundane and chaotic parts of life and love. I Need a New War is about people trying to respond to modern times, trying to keep pace with a world that might be moving faster than they are.”

Craig Finn’s I Need A New War maybe doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it’s a wonderful, comforting and yet confronting record from a songwriter we admire.