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Lifted or The Story is in the Soil....

Author: Tom Donnelly
12/08/2002 | | | Album Review
Conor Oberst has been hailed as the wonder child of the emo scene, the new Dylan (number 10,000), and referred to as an "accidental pin up" by Time Magazine. On his band's new release, Lifted, or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, Oberst has constructed a lyrically dense, musically complex record that's a near masterpiece.

One thing we can say for Oberst, he's consistent as hell. As usual, his lyrics veer all over the place, and these tracks read and sound more like stream of consciousness blasts of prose than traditionally structured songs. He still makes Eeyore seem like Richard Simmons on Prozac, tossing out gems like "Love's an excuse to get hurt...", on "Lover I Don't Have to Love" and "...everything I have made is trite and cheap..." on "Waste of Paint." Are we having fun yet? But he achieves his aim early on, which is simply to let the listener know one thing- it's all pretty meaningless. Pain is real.

As for the comparisons to Dylan, there are many lyrical images that echo those of Mr. Zimmerman circa Blonde on Blonde, the most notable on "Don't Know When But a Day is Gonna Come," when he sings of men with "purple hearts" who carry "silver guns." Later on, he questions the very existence of his own soul: "And if I sold my soul for a bag of gold, to you/which one of us would be the foolish one?" This guy should write greeting cards.

There are, however, moments of hope on the record, especially on the last 2 tracks, "Laura Laurent," and "Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love And Be Loved)." On the former he sings to an apparent kindred spirit, one he obviously feels for and perhaps loves. On the latter, Oberst addresses the critics who would dare to analyze, recommend, or condemn his recordings; "I do not read the reviews/No, I am not singing for you...." Good for him. He finishes the song (and subsequently the record) with the stunning couplet, "How grateful I was then to be part of the mystery, to love and to be loved/Let's just hope that is enough."

So why is Lifted... a near masterpiece? Oberst is still a great, if not brilliant, songwriter. The answer is simple-he hasn't grown up. His petulance with the world is still engaging, but it's becoming a little tedious, if not downright whiny. But hey, Conor doesn't mind. He's not singing for me.


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