Lifted or The Story is in the Soil....
By this point in his career, most people either loathe Conor Oberst's folky alter-ego or worship the very ground that the much-lauded 22 year old walks on. Bright Eyes enters the next chapter in it's existence with "Lifted (or) The Story Is In The Soil Keep Your Ear To The Ground," a title so pretentious that it does little more than provide fuel for the band's many detractors, even if it's pretty obvious that this is exactly what Conor was shooting for. Truth be told, after the success of "Fever And Mirrors" and the nonstop stream of coverage in magazines like Rolling Stone And Spin, many people are waiting and watching for any mistakes that might be made by a man that continues to be compared to another rogue folkster, Bob Dylan. "Lifted" succeeds in many ways that previous Bright Eyes material did not, but also suffers from some of the same shortcomings (short hardly being the problem) and inconsistencies that critics and fans alike will jump all over. The albums opener, "The Big Picture," sounds like an almost nine minute exercise in scaring people into not proceeding any farther. "False Advertising" features a somewhat humorous but entirely too contrived mistake complete with an apology from somewhere in the ensemble and an acceptance of the "I'm sorry" from Conor before the song continues, a moment that gets in the way of an otherwise great song. There are a few points on "Lifted" where a person has to just skip ahead a song or two to escape the moody muddle that threatens to exasperate the listener.
Despite all of this, "Lifted" does not rest on such complaints. Conor Oberst is maturing with a sense of melody and arrangement that continues to get better and better. The best moments on "Lifted" find Bright Eyes flirting with the kind of songs that are simply timeless. "Lover I Don't Have To Love" is a dark take on love without the pain, and finds Oberst musing that love is just "an excuse to get hurt." The song rolls directly into the next track, "Bowl Of Oranges," which is perhaps the happiest song in the Bright Eyes catalog, in a bittersweet sort of way, and finds a melody and instrumentation so lush and tangible that the tone of the song is never misunderstood. Actually, it's hard to pick favorites, almost every song has at least a moment or two that will bring you back again and again, whether it be the country tinged "Make War" or the simple acoustic poetry of "Waste Of Paint." The real question is how far "Lifted" can take Conor Oberst and the cast of Bright Eyes, the record is challenging at times, but, unlike previous efforts, there is more than just a bright spot or two in the middle of the self-loathing and pretension. Everyone makes mistakes, it's just that Oberst's mistakes are far more magnified, and that's something that's not going to change anytime soon. What I find to be most intriguing about "Lifted" isn't necessarily the way the songs fit together or how Bright Eyes can fill up a 74 minute cd with only 13 songs; It is in the promise that Conor shows in his songwriting as he matures, the records that are undoubtedly going to follow in the years to come. He has an uncanny ability to reflect on himself and the surroundings he encounters, and accurately portray the manic moments of his life. Nobody is perfect you know, and though many disciples of Bright Eyes might lead you to believe otherwise, Conor Oberst is just as human as you or I. Mistakes make us who we are, and in the end they make "Lifted" all the more human and respectable. An enjoyable Bright Eyes record? It's not as far fetched as you might think.
LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3