Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst has cultivated a reputation for risk-taking and surprise, both in his music and his career.
His best songs - whether it's "Road to Joy," his co-opting of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the tender, detail-filled emo-folk of "Lua," or the dramatic, Cure-like "Lover I Don't Have to Love" - use clever, unexpected twists that pull the listener deeper into the song. His career is packed with anti-establishment turns, including releasing two excellent albums of different styles simultaneously in 2005 and calling out President George W. Bush long before that became fashionable (or safe).
Unfortunately, the surprises have run out on Bright Eyes' latest album "Cassadaga" (Saddle Creek). It's not that there is anything wrong with the indie folk of the first single, "Four Winds," the raucous "Hot Knives" or the dreamy "Make a Plan to Love Me." It's that over the course of the album, so little changes.
In these songs, the focus on Oberst's lyrics is so overwhelming that the musical arrangements bend to accommodate them. His phrasing and vocal approach is basically the same from start to finish, covering the same short path over and over again, like he's pacing instead of creating something new.
Oberst seems so interested in the lyrics of his new songs that everything else seems secondary. "I Must Belong Somewhere," which has been part of his live set since the tours that supported "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" and "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn" in 2005, serves as an example of the balance that used to be and the fire that is often noticeably missing on "Cassadaga."
In short bursts, "Cassadaga" can be moving, even brilliant at times. But, taken as a whole, it is repetitive, grating and paints Bright Eyes as more of a one-trick pony than he really is.
LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3