Reviews

There is No Beginning to the Story

Author: John Everhart
06/12/2002 | Nude as the News | www.nudeasthenews.com | Album Review
Like Nick Drake on amphetamines, or, as Stephen Malkmus put it, "toy Nick Cave on truth serum," Conor Oberst -- who is essentially Bright Eyes -- commands attention. Eliciting extreme reactions, no doubt due to his histrionic singing and brazen lyrics, Oberst's gained a sizable, devoted fan base, and probably alienated a fair number of people as well. With his new release, There Is No Beginning To The Story, Oberst has mitigated the screaming to a certain degree, but the foundation of what makes Bright Eyes special is still intact. The fine vocal melodies, rhythmic guitar and keyboard song structures, along with the death- and relationship-obsessed lyrics are all still here, as well as a significant maturity in songwriting.

Lead track "From a Balance Beam," is all acoustic jangle and fractured rhythm. Featuring a chorus of "I'm staring at the sun, waiting for it to explode," over gentle harmonizing and supple drumming, it continues in the apocalyptic lyrical vein synonymous with Bright Eyes. The spare "Messenger Bird" is a distant relative of Radiohead's "True Love Waits", with its plaintive chorus of "Please, don't leave me guessing," echoing the latter's "Please, don't leave" refrain. Oberst reverts to his more emotive vocal technique -- all tortured warbles during the chorus -- which succeeds in this context, over the hushed glockenspiel and banjo.

"We are Free Men" is chamber pop on par with R.E.M. circa Automatic For The People. Oberst swaps perspectives with Simon Joyner over a lush, piano-laden melody, contemplating fate ("Well, the future spills its intangibles, an unknown set of variables"), before coming to the assured conclusion: "your body's gone but angel, you will live." "Loose Leaves," the closing track on the CD version, is a frenetic Neutral Milk Hotel-style rave-up, recalling "The City Has Sex" from Letting Off The Happiness. The jaunty keyboards and bouncy rhythm make frustration ("Prescription pills, I take two a day; they don't work, at least my doctor gets paid") sound like a grand catharsis.

The vinyl version features two bonus tracks: a raucous live take on Neil Young's "Out On The Weekend," and the original "Amy In The White Coat." The latter is stark and threadbare, recalling the band's tunes from the Motion Sickness 7", as Oberst laments "you look like your mother, in that thin disguise" over somber, angelic backing vocals.

The band's new LP is due out in August, and this EP is a teaser of what's to come. It still holds its own as a fine record -- one that takes plenty of risks and manages to ultimately succeed. It's also the most stylistically diverse record Bright Eyes has yet released, which bodes well for the new full-length.


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