Published Apr 25, 2019"I've been keeping up with payments, man / I've been managing the pain," Craig Finn offers at a warm mid-point on I Need a New War. The song, "Something to Hope For," backs it up with upbeat horn stabs and backing vocals; it's about as overtly joyful as moments get on Finn's fourth solo album, which showcases the sharp eye for small human triumphs and dramas that Finn has honed over the years — how contemporary struggles are often survived rather than defeated, managed rather than forgotten.
In other words, the other songs aren't exactly as happy, but they're no less compelling. As singer for the Hold Steady, Finn's always given novelistic details to bombastic rock band scores, but his solo output has been accumulating nuance; the album plays like a skilfully constructed short story collection, unified in voice and rich in instrumentation, but diverse in tone.
The urgent guitar drive of opener "Blankets" gives way to "Magic Marker"'s weary portrait of someone who got "pistol whipped in Portland ... had trouble with my numbers for some time." "Grant at Galena" lends the album its title, in a bleaker story of debt and drifting, while "Anne Marie & Shane" lets a building score of instrumentation unpack the breakdown of a friend's relationship from a distance. But regardless of the song or sentiment, Finn's skill for detail never wavers. In that, I Need A New War ranks among his best. (Partisan)