Craig Finn has lived his life within portraits of others. No one captures the moment quite the way he does, balancing snapshots of sadness and warmth with painful care, as if he’d heard the tales of Nebraska and decided to spend a career digging even deeper. Characters in Finn’s work tend to be caught in big moments: witnessing or partaking in crime, cheating or being cheated on, going on illicit road trips in the wake of a friend’s death, or having their very belief systems thrown into question or shattered.

I Need a New War, then, pulls back. Speaking on his fourth, and third in an informal trilogy since only 2015, Finn recognizes this tendency towards rising action, and acknowledged a desire to capture life in more mundane places. Ever the everyman, at 47, its led the Hold Steady frontman to capture perhaps his most wounded, empathetic, and fully realized body of work yet.

The worlds of I Need a New War don’t burst at the seams. Rather, characters simply go about their lives. They go to work, while a lazy, unappreciative lover slumbers their relationship away. They recount lives of dead ends, missed opportunities. They feel guilt over a mentor they’ve surpassed. In short, they wonder what it’s all been for.

In shying away from the sad grandeur of a Charlemagne, the heightened drama of a ‘One for the Cutters’, or even ‘God in Chicago’, class of ballad, Finn has drawn the curtains more than ever before on his weary inner world. In a frankly shocking feat for a man who’s already helped produce the likes of Boys and Girls in America, Craig Finn has never been more relatable.

One only need look to ‘Bathtub in the Kitchen’ to be immediately drawn in. Propelled by the soft melancholy of a simple, endlessly catchy drumbeat, Finn zeroes in on a faded, smothering friendship. An unnamed narrator tiredly views Frances, a former role model, now seemingly a failed, tired husk of a man, torn between helplessness, remorse, obligation, and a desire to help. New York, he seems to say, simply isn’t for everyone. He can only watch his old friend circle the drain.

Indeed, I Need a New War is the most explicitly, grimly concerned with New York, Finn’s chosen home, than his songwriting has ever been willing to be. “I went to the city, but the city didn't work,” reflects much of the attitude here, and for any of us who’ve hoped moving to a metropolis would somehow undo mundane reality, it’s an easy notion to get behind.

The song boasting this excerpt, ‘Grant at Galena’, named for none other than General Ulysses S., also holds the album’s titular line. Alongside Finn’s prior We All Want the Same Things, which felt like a plea for unity an ever-divided time, I Need a New War feels equally pointed, if in a starkly differing direction. With concerns far less grand than its historical namesake, the song’s narrator is simply exhausted. He’s gone as far as he can go, done all he can. He’s lost in a bursting world of endless storefronts, in an America he no longer recognizes. He hasn’t a clue what he needs, only that he needs it. Songs as easy to imbibe to as to heave a sigh to, these are fogged, fading portraits for the ages. We all need a new war.