Reviews

The People's Key

Author: Mark Beaumont
2/14/11 | Nme.com | www.nme.com | Record Review
From spiritual to celestial; from inner peace to outer space. 2007's country rock classic 'Cassadaga' was an album about finding sense and order in a senseless, orderless universe, inspired by Conor Oberst's visit to a spiritualist commune in the Florida town of the same name. But now the philosophical coin is flipped: 'The People's Key' is on a mission to decipher how quantum mechanical codes, prisms and triple spirals can add up to the complexity and confusion of humankind. Certainly it boldly goes where no wobble-voiced, therapy-scarred Nebraskan psych-poet has gone before. Having exhausted his traditional music purism on recent side-projects such as Monsters Of Folk and The Mystic Valley Band, for this eighth Bright Eyes studio album Oberst crossbreeds the alien synths of 'Digital Ash In A Digital Urn' with the primitive folk passion of 'I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning' to create a fresh strain of Bright Eyes record. So, within four tracks of the tribal blues noir of opener 'Firewall'_ complete with military drumrolls, groaning force fields and muted industrial clatter_ we've encountered shameless power pop synths and Meatloaf motorcycle riffs on 'Shell Games', a Maccabees-gone-ELO stormer called 'Jejune Stars', and 'Approximated Sunlight' _ a dusky Parisian Portishead slink of a song, accompanied by fluttering flutes and a choir of sultry Gallic seductresses wreathed in Gauloises smoke. If Oberst is here eschewing the organic for the electronic _ the rollocking 'Haile Selassie', for example, would've made for a brilliant folk rock yowler but is instead transformed into something Wire might have beaten out of their most untamed Yamahas _ he struggles to flick his internal switches to 'Dawkinsian cyborg'. "I wanna fly in your silver ship/But Jesus hang and Buddha sit", he emotes on 'Ladder Song', the plaintive piano classic he was always destined to tinkle. Even on a glorious space pop song as in thrall to the purity of the helix as 'Triple Spiral', he admits, "An empty sky/I fill it up with everything that's missing from my life". So Catholic guilt, tick; rich and evocative imagery, tick; sonic adventurousness, tick. 'The People's Key' bears all the hallmarks of a Bright Eyes classic, Oberst's masterpiece even. But, for the prostrate disciple holding up their hearts for his expert splicing, one thing is lacking _ the educated poetic mania of an 'I Must Belong Somewhere' or a 'Road To Joy'. Closer 'One For You One For Me' has similar trademarks _ a poet's cadence, a pan-social sweep from tyrant to righteous man, the odd Hitler suicide reference _ but grooves along on a languid New Order tip rather than bursting off the plastic to howl in your face like a lunatic attempting to smash your teeth in with an Edgar Allan Poe compendium. Perhaps Oberst finds it tough to bring his brilliant bile to bear upon a synth the way he attacks an acoustic; a shame, as 'The People's Key' is otherwise synthetic perfection. 8/10
The People's Key

The People's Key

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The People's Key

The People's Key

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