Reviews

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

Author: Exadore / Jeff
03/24/2003 | Bornbackwards.com | www.bornbackwards.com | Album Review
At this very moment there are thousands of young girls typing in their livejournals about how much they love Conor Oberst. Many of them are even describing the dreams they have about him or how lovely it would be to have his babies. This veneration and adulation given to a pretentious, mediocre-at-best singer/songwriter who stages mental problems and plays up his depression has me pretty baffled. More than baffled, I was starting to get resentful. I really wanted to hate the new Bright Eyes album. Those doubletracked vocal shakes and fake 'emotional-breakdown' things that are his trademark are really fucking terrible. But with his new album, Conor for the most part sheds his former ultra-sensitive, mentally unstable image in favor of beautifully orchestrated songs that leave almost no room for whiney faux emotional problems. Dropping these former tendencies really take away most of my prior complaints. The major flaws and problems with Lifted are the songs that resemble the older Bright Eyes albums, ie when Conor reverts back to playing tragic.

For instance, the first song "The Big Picture" has plenty to hate. It sounds like every other Bright Eyes song I've ever heard (complete with temper tantrum at the end) only it's extra-pretentious: clocking in at a whopping eight minutes without a single musical change, it just keeps repeating the same acoustic melody over and over again. Although, it's really an awful way to start an album, there's a purpose to the song. It sets up the story that will take place throughout the rest of the songs. The disheveled, rambling lyrics are an indication of his immaturity and as the album progresses, he becomes more and more mature. Unfortunately, the song does little more than drag out boredom and give an absolutely horrible first impression.

Things quickly turn around with "False Advertising" a wonderfully drifting little waltz composed of string swells, choir interludes, long horn swells backing up violins. The song even comes complete with the hiss of old vinyl and evokes a desire to learn how to ballroom dance. However the song contains a huge flaw: a planned mistake in the music executed just as Conor sings the word 'mistake.' This contrived little act really hurts the middle of an otherwise beautiful song.

"You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will" despite a stupid name would have made a perfect opener to the album. It starts as a rambling but fairly catchy acoustic number with distant and heavily reverbed vocals. By the end of the song, the orchestra bursts forth filling in the space in the song and the vocals are right up front. The transition between the two is the point of the song and perhaps that of the album and would have made a wonderful introduction.

The dark and menacing "Lover I Don't Have To Love" is one of the highlights of the album. The verses meander along at a slow pace, building suspense with its electric piano Halloween theme-song sound before the chorus drops in with a fast and jagged string section.

These songs all fall in the beginning though and because of this the album is extremely top-heavy. The last half slows down considerably and largely drops the orchestra in favor of the old Bright Eyes sound: extremely long and aimless acoustic songs full of over the top emotion and almost no variation like the opener. "Waste of Paint" contains some of the album's most resonating lyrical lines and its single most charming moment: when Conor affects the rough accent of an Irish street cop. While an enjoyable, good song when it starts, it is extremely stale when it finally drags itself to a close at 6 and half minutes with little or no musical variation at all. A more country sound also appears towards the very end of the album, introducing steel guitars, country back-up singers, group vocals, horns, etc. The songs definitely aren't as progressive or interesting as the first half of the album, but there are still standouts. "Bowl of Oranges" is the first really country song with a two-step beat driving Conor's lyrics of hopefulness. This is probably the most optimistic song Mr. Oberst has ever written, although certain portions of it seem forced. It's followed by "Don't Know When but a Day's Gonna Come," a song questioning the existence of God and the end of time. A typical, rambling Bright Eyes song, it's another setback on his path to maturity.

"Make War" is a continuation of "You Will…," using steel guitars and a country twang to give up on the girl that he was so sure would return to him. In his newfound maturity, he hopes that she ends up happy and never loses his composure in damning her to hell. Finally, "Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved)" is the "what I've learned" album closer and possibly one of the most enjoyable songs here, in addition to having the best title of any song this year. He spends the whole album maturing, learning, experiencing, and basically he ends up in the same place he started: pessimistic and irked at society but and without the hope that he had at the beginning.

So the new Bright Eyes has it's up and downs but it's pretty good I guess. Just don't expect me to write about it in my livejournal. Although Jeff might.

3.5 out of 5


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