Reviews

The People's Key

Author: Raghav Mehta
2/17/11 | Minnesota Daily | www.mndaily.com | Record Review
Few musicians waltz into the rock 'n' roll pantheon without enduring a fair share of mudslinging on the way there. Bob Dylan was famously booed by his fans when he went electric. Christian America tossed Beatles' records into a fire and called for a boycott over a tongue-in-cheek Jesus comparison. Elvis felt the outrage of an entire generation after gyrating on national television. Even the internationally famed Bono faces ridicule to this day. It's a harsh but unchanging reality for sure: Our most celebrated songwriters can also be our most hated. While Conor Oberst is no arena rock star, he is a songwriter of enormous talent and no exception to this longtime rock 'n' roll dichotomy. For every glowing review, Dylan comparison and Billboard success, there was always a long line of devoted naysayers wrapped around the corner. Allmusic's veteran critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine accused him of "wallowing in perpetual adolescence," Jay Leno's audience booed him over a sarcastic protest song, even America's favorite satirical rag, The Onion, took aim at his weepy persona with the headline "Nation Planning Surprise Party to Cheer Up Conor Oberst." But to put it simply, the Oberst we hear on Bright Eyes' latest (and possibly last) album, "The People's Key," isn't the same prep-school poet we all grew to love and hate. Falling more in line with the electro-soundscape of "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn," the record is completely devoid of the no-frills Americana that has come to define his musical identity as of late. It's a dense arrangement of fuzzy synths, warm reverb and dreamy atmospherics that sees Oberst and his longtime producer Mike Mogis gravitating to a place far weirder and more spacey than any of their previous efforts. From the percussive clatter of "A Machine Spiritual" to the synth-laden crunch of "Triple Spiral," Oberst is eloquent but not verbose, ambitious but not overwrought. He skirts political commentary, instead delivering discursive musings of the existential kind. On the new-wave throwback "Shell Games," he sings "My private life is an inside joke / no one will explain it to me." It's an introspective side that recalls his more formative years as a scatterbrained prodigy as opposed to the enlightened recluse of "Cassadaga" and his Mystic Valley fare. "The one recurring theme in my writing, and my life in general, has been confusion," Oberst told New York Magazine earlier this month. And it's a pertinent statement since it's unclear exactly what "The People's Key" is trying to say lyrically or sonically. But that very inconsistency is exactly what the album suffers from, whether it be on the out-of-place "Jejune Stars" or the aimless sci-fi-meets-existentialism voiceovers woven throughout. "The People's Key" may not be Bright Eyes' greatest effort, but Oberst is still the greatest songwriter of this generation. 3 out of 4 stars
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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