The People's Key
Author: Robert Hilburn
2/17/11 | Roberthilburnonline.com | www.roberthilburnonline.com | Record Review
Conor Oberst demonstrated in 2002's "Lifted or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ears to the Ground" that he was one of the most gifted singer-songwriters in years?and he delivered his masterpiece three years later in "I'm Wide Awake, It Must Be Morning." In that album, the Omaha native, who records under the group name Bright Eyes, looked at the world with such intimacy and penetrating observation that you couldn't help but think of another Midwesterner who arrived in the early 1960s. Like that Minnesota native before him, Oberst felt uncomfortable with all the media acclaim and commentary, especially the part about being the voice of a new generation. So, he seemed to take a few side steps in his subsequent albums?as if trying to catch his breath and figure out his goals as a musician. With "The People's Key," Oberst steps out of the confusion with his most focused and revealing set of songs since "Wide Awake"?and he has some fresh musical textures to match. He continues to be angry at the hypocrisy of the political arena, but he also seems more humble. The answers aren't as definite and the world doesn't swirl as around him as much. Still, he continues to value concepts of honor and sacrifice with an almost spiritual fervor, stressing the importance of community and brotherhood. This CD doesn't exhibit the consistency of "I'm Wide Awake," but it asserts a similar excellence in the best moments, including "Beginner's Mind," "Ladder Song" and, especially, "One for You, One for Me." In the latter, he sings: One for the breadlines / One for the billionaires / One for the missing / One for the barely there / One for the certain / One for the real confused / One for me, okay, now One for you."