Clear Heart Full Eyes (yes, the titles a play on the catchphrase from Friday Night Lights, of which Finn is admittedly an enormous fan) really seems to follow the groping, narcotized and promiscuous teenagers that characterize The Hold Steadys discography, as it moves away, discovers integrity, grows up, and/or finds Jesus.
It follows pretty logically then, that these new stories arent always very happy. These people are now experienced hence the Full Eyes of the title and its far from pretty.
Take Rented Room, for instance, wherein producer Mike McCartneys production (Finn traveled to Austin to work with the Spoon and ...And They Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead producer) is so sparse that the reality of the situation Playing records in a rented room seems magnified and immediate. Finns not afraid to approach boredom in his subject matter (When things got bad we would drink and sit) and while that worked pretty well whenever THS guitarist Tad Kubler and ex-keyboardist Franz Nikolai were backing him, my brain felt lapses in interest at times. The backing hollers and explosive guitar solos gone, Finns voice is suddenly much more homely.
However, album opener Apollo Bay (with its eerie, groaning guitars and muted drums) and several other of these tracks tackle loneliness beautifully, imbuing the feeling with a lot of Catholic imagery: of 12 apostles, failed evangelism and so on. Side note: I wonder if the my head was really hurting, so I had to take it to Apollo Bay line came from too many drunken Hold Steady sing-alongs.
Its also worth noting that Finn drops little scenes and instances into his songwriting here that connect to THS songs, i.e. the back half of the theater in Jackson, which also appears on Multitude of Casualties on the 2005 album, Separation Sunday.
Musically, theres not a whole lot to write home about here, at least in terms of breaking sonic ground. Im a fan of McCarthys work, and its his signature spot-on here, climaxing in prettily toned guitars and cymbals in sync with Finns songwriting. Honolulu Blues is probably the most fun they had recording, as it locks into a slowed-down version of the guitar groove from Bachman-Turner Overdrives Takin Care of Business while Finn evangelizes for embittered ex-Catholics everywhere. New Friend Jesuss silly sing-along chorus grew on me with each listen, and album closer Not Much Left of Us is worth a handful of listens, even if Finn sounds a little enamored with his soft spot on a piece of fruit imagery.
I suppose this is a good record I really did enjoy it and am glad to have listened. But Im also very glad that Finns indulging the benefit of indie success with an already-established band because I cant really imagine his solo career going really far without it.