Reviews

Fevers and Mirrors

Author: Taylor M. Clark
07/11/2000 | Pitchfork Media | www.pitchforkmedia.com | Album Review
Rating: 5.4

Scarcely free of his teenage years, Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst has attempted to create a mature, cohesive concept album of sorts. He has shot for the moon, but skids to a halt on the ground, hindered by young wings. Granted, I'm 20. He's 20. Far be it from me to criticize the efforts of those my age based solely on our greenness, but as my grandmother would say, Oberst's eyes are a lot bigger than his stomach.

Fevers and Mirrors is home to the sophomoric musical meanderings of a young songwriter who seems to take himself far too seriously. This doesn't mean that the music is that bad, only that it's marred by its own overzealous nature. Quite the contrary, there are a few gems hidden in the niches of this album. "The Calendar Hung Itself..." is an intense piece which grinds along to an addictive Latin guitar strumming pattern. On "Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh," Oberst makes an old chord progression seem new with a strong acoustic hook and nicely executed instrumentation from a vibraphone and slide guitar. However, the album as a whole fails in several departments.

What in particular are these fatal flaws that plague Bright Eyes? Let's begin with Oberst's voice. Initially, he seems wracked with intense emotion. But listen closer. His voice has one setting: unsteady quaver. He sounds hypothermic. Nowhere is this more apparent than on "When the Curious Girl Realizes She is Under Glass," where the effect is so extreme that it becomes absolutely ridiculous, not to mention unnerving.

So much of what passes for emotional and intellectual depth on this album is blatantly contrived nonsense. This would never have been so terribly obvious had he not placed a gut-wrenchingly ludicrous staged radio interview with himself at the end of "An Attempt to Tip the Scales." I simply cannot stress enough what a maddeningly self-indulgent mass of pseudo-depth this section of the album falls into. In this sickening chunk of narcissism, Oberst makes a laughable attempt to prove to his listeners that he is of a penetratingly deep intelligence by spouting strings of stale aphorisms that pass for rich understanding amongst those reluctant to have original thought. Not only this, but the mock interviewer actually interrupts Oberst to tell him how brilliant the album is. On the actual record he says this. I hate to sound haughty, but I have honestly never witnessed such tasteless, ostentatious self-promotion on an album by anyone. It must be heard to be believed.

On a strictly musical level, Bright Eyes has his definitive moments but struggles with originality for the majority of the record. "Something Vague" showcases one of the most abused chord progressions in existence with little variation on what's already been done. "The Movement of a Hand" sounds suspiciously like an Eels song. And in a sign of lackluster songwriting, far too many of the songs on Fevers and Mirrors fall victim to the predictability problem of vocals following the bassline at all times. "A Scale, A Mirror, and Those Indifferent Clocks," "Arienette," and "The Center of the World" are all paradigm cases of this trait despite being pleasant enough songs.

In most places, Fevers and Mirrors makes for an interesting listen considering its flaws. The instrumentation is diverse and tastefully orchestrated by the large cast, and it's clear that a great deal of thought and talent has been contributed to its making. Unfortunately, the album is also contrived and makes too blatant an effort to convince the listener of Oberst's tragic wisdom. It's a record that can be enjoyable in select places and definitely shows signs of potential, yet falls victim to mediocrity when held against the work of truly developed musicians. Oberst is in the early stages of developing a talent that will likely take some years to fully mature. When it does, I look forward eagerly to the result. For the time being, he's a far cry from excellent.
Fevers and Mirrors

Fevers and Mirrors

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