Monthly Archives: January 2012

Craig Finn – Clear Heart Full Eyes

Combining the beefy riffs of Tad Kubler, (erstwhile member) Franz Nicolay’s organ whirs and one-man sideshows and the pissed-up paeans of Craig Finn, The Hold Steady were one of North America’s most importable exports last decade. On his debut solo outing, Craig Finn shows that he possesses the song-smithery to thrive, even when stripped of the elements that had become almost indigenous to his art. The guitar-heavy days of Boys and Girls… feel like a distant memory while listening to Clear Heart Full Eyes, but Finn’s sharpness of tongue remains, on what’s an entertaining, if more contemplative complement to his main body of work. As ever, Finn takes his muse from the timeworn fields of love and loss, parties and hangovers, religion and sin, each handled with the swagger and precocity we’ve come to expect. No Future, a spurious breakup retort, threatens to steal the show, but Clear Heart… is absorbing from start to finish.

Written for The Skinny

REM – Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011

Twenty years ago, REM scored their first bona fide smash hit, when ‘Losing My Religion’ brought them unexpected (and, arguably, unwanted) transatlantic success. It was roughly four years after they’d left IRS to sign for Warner Brothers, when a section of early fans, disgruntled with the “poppier” aesthetic on 1988’s Green, started calling for them to call it a day. Most of those fans are probably in their mid-fifties now, but they finally got their wish in September. Better late than never, eh? The story demonstrates the incredible staying power of the Athens, Georgia band, who went 30 years without producing a genuine turkey (although they did their best withAround The Sun), and closed out their careers with the dignity and class that came to define them.

Matt Berninger of The National told The Skinny last year that they’ve modelled themselves on the band-democracy pioneered by REM. Since they started as a quartet in 1980, each member had equal say in everything, from the song structures to the album covers. But just as a democratic society will flounder if you remove the legislature or judiciary, when one of the pillars of REM was taken away, they stuttered. Despite a relative upturn over their last two albums, their post-Bill Berry output was sketchier and less inventive. They were missing a spark, but remained an excellent singles band, the best of which make it on here.

If you’ve been buying up the IRS remasters, you won’t need this compilation. If not, then it’s worth the money for the wonderful clarity shone on songs like Gardening at Night And So. Central Rain. Of course, everyone will gripe about what’s been left off (personal favourites Cuyahoga, Perfect Circle and Near Wild Heaven being notable absentees), but this is the best and most intelligently selected REM compilation you’ll get. It’s a fitting epitaph to a fantastic band, who’ve exited stage left, leaving us to stew forever over what the hell Stipe sings on The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite.

2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,400 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.