The People's Key
Author: Benjamin Kitchen
3/2/11 | CIncinnati News Record | www.newsrecord.org | Record Review
Bright Eyes' lead singer Conor Oberst has been the voice of tortured indie-folk musings for the past decade, so fans were naturally disappointed when he wanted to "retire" the Bright Eyes moniker after one final release.The new album, "The People's Key," finds itself hovering somewhere between electronic and modern rock music. It is reminiscent of the synthesized sound of Bright Eyes' 2005 album "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn" and the rock band Desaparecidos, a side project of Oberst's. The sound seems intentionally lo-fi, muffled and unclear, perhaps to compliment the vague lyrics.Following Bright Eyes' previous album, 2007's "Cassadaga," Oberst continues to abandon his introspective, gloomy lyrics for a more conscious, otherworldly approach. A science-fiction author could have written the lyrics. Oberst elaborates on apocalyptic and mystical ideas, as well as covering topics ranging from New Age spirituality to Rastafarianism.Denny Brewer, a Texan musician, frames many of the songs with peculiar sermons about enlightenment, extraterrestrial life and time. Every time he speaks, Jeff Bridges immediately comes to mind. The use of Brewer's speeches, in which he rambles on about nonsensical theories, is ineffective and almost jarring.The album's opening track "Firewall" builds slowly with stuttering drumbeats, a repetitive bass and hazy guitar. The song is by no means bad, but much like the rest of the record, it fails to truly capture the listener's attention like the Omaha-based band has done so successfully for the past fifteen years.One of the few highlights of the album is "Shell Games," previously available as a free single by Bright Eyes before the record's release. The song is an upbeat anthem, recalling Bright Eyes' better days. "A Machine Spiritual (In the People's Key)" and the melancholy "Ladder Song" also stand out.Unfortunately, the album fails to live up to the wounded melodrama of 2002's "Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground," where epic backing tracks were wedded to Oberst's angst-ridden wailing. Nor does the new album compare to the indie-folk of 2005's "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" ? arguably Bright Eyes' most famous work and magnum opus. Oberst recently said he was "over" that "rootsy Americana shit," in a Billboard.com article.In theory, "The People's Key" should capture the essence of Bright Eyes ? gripping, honest and poignant. For someone who was once heralded as "the new Bob Dylan," the new Bright Eyes material is, sadly, a disappointment.