Reviews

The People's Key

Author: Andrew Hitz
2/14/11 | Oregon Daily Emerald | www.dailyemerald.com | Record Review
I've always considered Conor Oberst's raw immediacy and uncut delivery in his song writing to be the Bright Eyes front man's greatest talent as a poet and musician. In the last few years, or since Cassadaga, Bright Eyes' last studio album, there's been a lot of skepticism from the fans who knew Oberst as the man behind the quivering, tentative voice who needed to let the world in on his "deepest, darkest secrets" and his reproach of his parents' religion. For those who feel this way and for those who feel that the "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning / Digital Ash In A Digital Urn" dual album was the artist's last decent release, I would not suggest taking the time to listen to "The People's Key." One of the biggest transitions in Oberst's song writing over the past five years has been a thematic shift from the deeply personal to exploring broader territory, like political issues, and now even criticizing other cultures' religions. Though there's nothing wrong with protest songs or expressing political positions (Oberst is a fervent Democrat), but in a situation where you formerly wrote tragic love songs, things start to sound really whiney and aloof at a certain point. There are no tracks on "The People's Key" that build from Oberst's cooing, soft voice into his full-on screams and shrills. There's nothing out of today's musical norm, no swinging cabaret drinking songs, no poetic retellings of dirty one-night stands, nothing that would indicate any association with the artist that wrote "Lifted" or "Fevers and Mirrors." And that makes some sense. Oberst has grown up, no doubt. He's adjusted his style to suit what he thinks is better for the band and his music in general, and no one can discount the momentous influence that he has over the national indie music scene. But it's also interesting and a bit predictable to see a musician rise to popularity only to be diluted and watered down in their musical content. Some ideological indie bands take to the "he used to be so good before he went mainstream" mentality, which is pretty fallacious. I mean, look at Wilco's maintained critical acclaim. But it just seems that Oberst and Bright Eyes live up to the stereotype. It seems like after much acting out, the brutish songwriting, and his drunken, quintessential Conor performances that it's time to kick back in the armchair and whine about how screwed up the world is. I really just miss the guy who wasn't afraid of letting me in on how screwed up he was. The new album is, well, a pop-rock album. It's a Bright Eyes pop album, not in any way the tremor-inducing, teeth-grinding Elliott Smith/Nick Drake-influenced confluence of melody and thought-provoking lyrics. There's an overall heavier reliance on electronics that wasn't as apparent in his former works, which were much more acoustically driven. But this is all a continuation of the change that had started taking place and was apparent back in "Digital Ash," full-frontal in "Cassadaga" and now reaffirmed in "The People's Key" as Oberst's vision for the band. There are traces of former sounds, feelings and rifts on certain tracks, like "Triple Spiral," which has a punkish guitar overdrive reminiscent of early, early works like "Letting Off the Happiness," but for the most part, this is a completely transformed Bright Eyes. So, I suppose there's a real division between "young Conor" and "older Conor." Whether or not you'll like any of Bright Eyes' new music now totally depends on how and why you first liked it. A music review won't really help you out
The People's Key

The People's Key

LP / Deluxe LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3




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The People's Key

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