Reviews

Fevers and Mirrors

Author: Patrick Rapa
05/25/2000 | Philadelphia City Paper | www.citypaper.net | Live Show Preview
Last year, Bright Eyes turned heads with the complex arrangements and buzzing acoustic guitars on Letting Off the Happiness. But fans and critics couldn't stop thinking about "Padraic, My Prince," the album's seemingly autobiographical account of a baby in a bathtub, a mother letting him drown.

It's easy to see why perfect strangers worry about Bright Eyes vocalist-guitarist Conor Oberst. The 20-year-old Omaha kid's lyrics are so dark, and delivered with such gritty detail, it's hard to separate the songwriter from the songs.

"Everyone wanted to know, 'did you have a brother that drowned in a bathtub?' blah, blah, blah." Oberst says, laughing at the mess his lyrics have been getting him into. While he's dealing with the post-Happiness buzz, his mom's been cool about the whole drowning baby thing. "She thinks it's funny…. She knows that some of what I do in making music is going to invade our privacy a little bit as a family."

Once the consummate bedroom rocker, Oberst brought together the current Bright Eyes lineup (he's been the only constant) to spend over a month in the studio on their new record, Fevers and Mirrors (Saddle Creek). The resulting 12 tracks are linked by their smartly subtle bits of lo-fi electronics and samples as well as by overriding images of fevers, pills, funerals. If some of the songs sound personal, it's because they are. Oberst has been dealing with clinical depression for years. "It's not really anything to be ashamed of," he explains. "So many people go through it. I just happen to sing about it."

Prolonged obsessing over Oberst's personal stake in his lyrics is not the point. He hopes the songs are universal enough to pull the listener in.

He'll be momentarily happy to know that Fevers is Bright Eyes' most engaging album yet. Dark wit and pounding rhythm ("The Calendar Hung Itself") are expertly followed by slow, graceful gravity ("Something Vague"). The screaming, damning "Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh" is an endearingly bitter, vaguely suicidal rant at an unfaithful lover: "You said you hated my suffering, and you understood, and you'd take care of me. Well, where are you now?"

It's heart-ripping stuff, but Oberst insists it's his friends' job, not yours, to worry about him. "I don't want it to be like a fuckin' pity game, you know, have people come into shows to see some weird, sad creature in the zoo or something."
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