I've been a fan of Craig Finn's band The Hold Steady and their thrift-store Springsteen routine for a number of years now, but I had started to wonder if they were going off the boil a bit, particularly on last year's patchy effort Teeth Dreams. So I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed Finn's second solo album, which might well have been subtitled Ten Songs In Search Of A Good Lawyer.
Finn's songs always gravitate towards the seedier side of town where people live their lives on the edge, but this is his grittiest offering yet: ten short stories that come on like Raymond Carver meets Dennis Lehane.
The opening track finds its narrator scouring the south western States looking for his missing boy (who, it's hinted, may have committed an unspeakable crime) and going off the rails himself when he gets involved with a Waco-esque cult.
And then there's Christine, a love song to a woman with really awful taste in men.
She went to MemphisYou've got to feel bad for poor, love-struck Craig when she tells him, 'You're such a good guy.' That's gotta hurt.
With some dentist
That she met on
Some weird website
She came back
Three days later
She couldn't speak for a week.
The album's full of semi-tragic heroines, from Christine to Sandra From Scranton ("She's got medical reasons for all these prescriptions") to poor old Sarah, Calling From A Hotel. He hasn't heard from her in nearly a year, when out of the blue she phones him from a hotel to apologise for how they ended. And then, before she hangs up, she tells him...
Here he comesDespite all this darkness (and, as in a lot of Hold Steady songs, lashings of Catholic guilt), there's a morbid wit at work here. Most notably on the final track, which features yet another beleaguered female protagonist, although the title keeps reminding me of that sketch from The Day Today in which Steve Coogan plays a nighttime swimming pool supervisor...
Oh god, I gotta go.
Here he comes
He's got a gun.
I gotta go.
Next, at Number 6, small town dreams come true on a flashback to the very best of 80s rock...