Craig Finn, charismatic frontman of slightly niche, yet excellent rock band The Hold Steady, and very niche (but equally excellent) post-punk outfit Lifter Puller, is back. As any good indie label should, Vagrant have essentially given him free reign on his first solo outing, allowing the Minneapolis native to take a decidedly relaxed approach, with mixed results.
The album opens, somewhat disappointingly on a rather weak note, the quirky 12 bar blues of ‘Apollo Bay’ offsetting obtuse and frankly uninteresting lyrics. Thankfully, it picks up from there with a couple of solid tracks, the glassy guitars and dark character study of ‘When No One’s Watching’ contrasting well. But patchiness is the name of the game for Clear Heart, and a few weak moments plague the middle of the album, (I’d recommend avoiding the sappy and pretentious ‘Jackson’ altogether). Luckily, Finn manages to save face in the back half of the album, with a quartet of brilliant songs that leave you as any good album should – with a feeling of deep contentment. This is a true lazy Sunday album; satisfying and enjoyable, but ultimately lacking the passion and drive to make it more than just average.
Without the strength of his usual bandmates, the focus here lies squarely on Finn’s writing ability, which I have to say falters a bit. The slightly repetitive instrumentation eventually wears thin, despite the initially interesting change of pace compared with his prior efforts, and even his excellent storytelling abilities sound muted, despite showcasing his genuinely heartfelt and sincere approach to lyricism. While dedicated fans will be content with this record, for all newcomers to his work, don’t write him off. He can do so much better, I promise.