Reviews

Lifted or The Story is in the Soil....

Author: ROB SHEFFIELD
08/22/2002 | Rolling Stone | rollingstone.com | Album Review
We're flooded with new Dylans these days, most of them just hype jobs with acoustic guitars and fat press kits. But Conor Oberst, the twenty-two-year-old Omaha, Nebraska, wunderkind behind Bright Eyes, has the goods. He started out as a four-track singer-songwriter type, but he's picked up some ambition. Lifted, his one-man-band's fourth album, is a seventy-three-minute opus loaded with musical energy and poetic pretensions, all hooked around Oberst's callow, disheveled voice. He begins his songs with lines such as "The future's got me worried" and "I have a friend who's mostly made of pain," and doesn't end them until he's piled on the piano, strings, glockenspiel, pedal steel and boozy backing choirs, sobbing and screaming his deeply personal lyrics, usually for five or six minutes at a time. If you wish he'd go back to low-fi purity, tough luck -- nobody could hang purity on music this smart, this vibrant, this emotionally and musically effusive.

Oberst begins Lifted with "The Big Picture," an eight-minute rant of acoustic static-riddled folk, testing your patience and teasing your appetite at the same time. From there, he lurches into Belle and Sebastian-style balladry ("Bowl of Oranges"), pissed-off country ("Make War"), tongue-in-cheek schmaltz ("False Advertising") and gorgeous chamber pop ("Nothing Gets Crossed Out"). He can sniffle like the Cure's Robert Smith or snarl like his most obvious mentor, Highway 61-era Dylan. And when he rails against "cowboy presidents" and the military-industrial establishment in the finale, "Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and to Be Loved)," he has no trouble saying exactly what he means. Oberst overdoes it nearly all the time (that last track rambles on for ten minutes), and you could argue that his songs would be even stronger if he'd bear down and get to the point quicker. But you'd be wrong, because this kid's pretensions are a freak of nature and should be zealously guarded against developers and contractors. If you're like most rock & roll fans, you've probably been starved for something like Bright Eyes.