Saddle Creek | Bright Eyes | Reviews



Author: Jay Lustig
04/08/2007 | New Jersey Star Ledger | | Album Review
"Better find yourself a place to level out," sings Conor Oberst on "If the Brakeman Turns My Way," a song from the new Bright Eyes album, "Cassadaga."

The line, on the surface, is about rehab, but it also applies to where Oberst is at in his musical development. He has, in the past, often given the impression of veering between emotional extremes. But here, he performs with a steadier tone, often singing in a quietly determined way, and not peppering his songs with unexpected outbursts. Now 27 -- he has been performing with various combinations of musicians under the Bright Eyes name for more than a decade -- he finally seems comfortable in his own skin.

This album also represents something of a stylistic leveling out. The last two Bright Eyes studio albums -- "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning," and "Digital Ash In a Digital Urn," released simultaneously in 2005 -- had distinct personalities. The former was scruffy-roots rock, the latter was electronic pop. "Cassadaga" stakes out a middle ground, with some country-flavored songs, but also lots of orchestral flourishes, and a few ethereal interludes.

Oberst easily holds on to his place as one of the most ambitious lyricists of his generation. He meditates on big subjects -- war, the apocalypse, spiritual renewal -- with a Dylanesque tendency to stud his songs with so many thoughts and images your head spins.

"Death may come invisible or in a holy wall of fire/In the breath between the markers on some black I-80 mile/From the madness of the governments to the vengeance of the sea/Well, everything is eclipsed by the shape of destiny," he sings, mournfully, in "No One Would Riot For Less."

"Your class, your caste, your country, sect/Your name or your tribe/There's people always dying/Tryin' to keep 'em alive," he sings in the "Four Winds," over an incongruously bouncy beat.

"Cassadaga" -- the name comes from a Florida community known for its psychics -- doesn't make as strong an initial impact as some past Bright Eyes albums, with their rougher edges and more urgent tones. But it's still a rich, rewarding ride, and is intense in its own way. Many angry young men have grown up less gracefully.


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