THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Before Frankie & His Fingers broke up in 2010, the trio of guitarist and singer Frank McGinnis, drummer Sammi Niss and bassist Adam Stoutenburgh were the stars of a homegrown scene in New York’s Hudson Valley.
Since forming as a guitar/drums duo at Bennington College in 2004, their nervy indie rock had drawn comparisons to classics like the Talking Heads as much as to their contemporaries in groups like The Get Up Kids and The Anniversary. On widely pirated releases like One Hell of a Skeleton and Hell Broke Loose, Frank wrote witty, wordy, and at times acid-tongued stories of loneliness and heartbreak over razor-sharp guitar and springy rhythm section interplay. They sounded like a band about to break out, and they very nearly did. But life made other demands. Adam went back to college, Frank explored ‘80s kitsch and folk-rock in a plethora of other bands, and Sammi sits behind the kit for acts as various as Real Estate and Laura Stevenson, as well as pursuing her own solo work in Hiding Behind Sound. The band stayed close, and made various stabs at getting back together over the years, including a sold-out reunion show in 2013.
Universal Hurt sees the addition of long-time fan (and brother of Adam) Ryan Stoutenburgh on lead guitar. All the pieces fell back into place. Frankie & His Fingers are back from the grave. Recorded largely at Frank’s home in Poughkeepsie, Universal Hurt sounds like a group of friends reconsidering their original spark. Tracks like Celebrate! and Just Because You Are… Doesn’t Mean You Have To… find the band leaning into the riffy power-pop of groups like Bad Moves and Diarrhea Planet, while There’s A Dragon In That Cave brings the album to a close with a nine-minute synth-pop jam reminiscent at various times of both Thin Lizzy and Flock of Dimes. Traces of Big Star, The Get Up Kids, Cheap Trick, The Weakerthans, Teenage Fanclub, The Hold Steady, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello permeate the record’s 10 tracks.
Universal Hurt is the smartest, most complex music the band has ever made, and yet often their most emotionally direct, reaching out to the listener with soaring choruses and walls of guitars. But much has changed in the intervening decade, and Frank’s lyrics these days strike a more cynical tone, flashed through with moments of melancholic self-doubt. “Why do you act like your youth is dead? / The day will come when you wish you were this age instead,” he reflects on Sad To Let You Down Like This, while Gene Kelly & The Truck My Dad Built finds him settling into his mid-30s, full of not-entirely discarded desires for something more from life. “Just recalled that I promised my mom I’d be famous by now / And I’d buy her a house” he sings at the song’s opening, but by the end he’s committed to something approaching acceptance: “Let’s try to let go / Of what we can’t know / I think if we turn left here there’s a new road.”