This is the Third in a trilogy of albums by the Hold Steady front person, each album looks at the same set of people from a different view point which alone is enough to spark interest.
In Craig’s words : ‘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.
If you have heard the previous two parts of this project you will be expecting this to sound nothing like The Hold Steady and you’d be right, it doesn’t but who wants to hear one member of a band repeating the same musical style. Within the introduction to album opener ‘Blankets’ this album takes on a cinematic feeling which is used and developed throughout, the musical suspense is created with clever composition and an ever building sense of musicianship. Within this opening track guitar and bass lay the ground work for an often distorted melody, as verses progress backing vocals, guitar effects keys and harmonica join gradually to create a sound that owes as much to underground soul or jazz as it does to the Americana and country of the previous two releases in this miniseries. As the release moves forward
Vocally this is an emotive masterpiece, the range of emotion is infectious and fits perfectly with his ever honest word play. Even within the most infectious musical hooks there is a fragility within the vocal which never lets a listener forget the emotional turmoil of these tales, which takes away any question of the main point of view these are clearly personal songs. The sparse opening of ‘Bathtub in the Kitchen’ sees CF at his most emotionally fragile the slow addition of keys builds behind the delicate emotional cracks within the vocals. This song tells tales of regret and personal destruction and there is a moment where a musical interlude allows a moment of reflection before the next tale takes over. The backing vocals and sad guitar tone hold this whole mood together and the sudden ending leads flawlessly in to a gentle introduction.
There are some incredibly well considered backing vocals which make or break the mood of each song; ‘Indications’ has backing vocals with a silver-screen quality which is both beautiful and haunting in contrast there is a real 1960’s pop feeling to the backing vocals on ‘Something to Hope For’ which create an infectiously uplifting tone. It is a very well-considered example of an album that has been put together with an exceptional amount of attention to detail. This LP’s building tracks fit together with a knife edge precision that considers every single aspect with equal importance, the musicianship, vocals and backing vocals and lyrics almost take it in turns to pull focus as track follows track.
The musicianship continues with a hazy suspense throughout and ties perfectly with the honest vocals, which at times take on a spoken tone and start to sound like the darkest confessions. The distant keys in ‘Carmen Isn’t Coming in Today’ create un-paralleled emotion and as the slide guitar creeps in there is an almost overwhelming sense of sadness which takes morose wordplay to an intense new level. Despite the intense moments of crippling sadness this release is ultimately positive and relatable, tales of trying to grow as fast as the modern world would struggle to not be sad.
As the release reaches an end point, the flow continues to be completely effortless and though there are obvious singles within ‘I Need A New War’ this plays wonderfully in full. Musically there are obvious references throughout with the real life honesty of Eels, the acoustic punk of Brian Fallon or Dave Hause and Bon Iver or Bright Eyes esq progressive musicianship all leading to something that sounds nothing like these references. The release has an identity all of its own with production somewhere between hip hop and Phil Spector contributing to a classic singer songwriter style and making it far more intriguing.
Although often filled with sad honesty this is an album that’s positivity hides within the occasional beautiful lyric and the regular bursts of vintage brass. As part of the trilogy this final instalment ends the project on an enormous high, this serves as further proof there is beauty in sadness.