Music Review: Bright Eyes provides a unique blend
Eyes’ new album ‘The People’s Key’ offers focus on religion and culture
Published: Thursday, April 14, 2011
Updated: Sunday, April 17, 2011 16:04
Ten years ago, when Bright Eyes was only a boy from Omaha fueled by sadness and his love for folk heroes Elliott Smith and Daniel Johnston, no one would have expected Conor Oberst to retire the Bright Eyes moniker with a synthpop album.
Although many longtime Bright Eyes fans will be disappointed by Oberst's newfound love of synthesizers and electric guitars, Oberst's brilliant songwriting remains as lustrous as ever.
"The People's Key" is easily Bright Eyes' most accessible album, filled with poppy choruses and even a few radio-friendly songs. "Jejune Stars" and "Haile Selassie" come to mind as songs that would frequently appear on college radio stations across the United States.
Listeners who have been following Bright Eyes know by now that he almost always begins his albums with some sort of spoken story, which is done quite well in "The People's Key." The album begins with Danny Brewer, a man who is most likely insane, rambling about humans with reptilian features. While Brewer's vocals create convolution, his voice is used well throughout the album.
I have always been a fan of Bright Eyes' use of multiple instruments creating a conglomeration of unique sounds. Unfortunately, "The People's Key" is not exactly unique in its instrumentation. The synthesizer sounds have already been heard throughout the 1980s, the electric guitars are quite mundane and there is little use of strings. Also, the piano melody in "Ladder Song" sounds almost as if it was lifted directly from Pink Floyd's "Nobody Home."
The only element that continues to stand out is Oberst's vocals. Although Oberst will not win any "American Idol" competitions, his voice has always been the driving force in his music. Oberst has altered his singing style a bit, avoiding the scatchy, emotional screams of which he was quite fond before the release of "Cassadaga" in 2007, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Whereas the influence of David Dondero and Violent Femmes can still be heard in Oberst's voice, at times, his voice sounds eerily similar to that of psychedelic guru Avey Tare of Animal Collective.
At the end of "Firewall," when Oberst repeatedly chants "Seen yeah seen by I and I," it almost sounds as if he is being possessed by Tare.
Although I was not impressed with the instrumentation in "The People's Key," the songwriting is stellar, which can always be expected from Oberst.
The album has a strong religious theme, religious cultural references being woven throughout the album.
While focusing mainly on religion, "The People's Key" tackles a broad area of subjects, such as time, human relationships, electronics and the universe itself all in the span of 47 minutes. Oberst attempts to appeal to historians and fans of literature, alluding to figures such as Hitler, Eva Braun, Caesar, Sisyphus, Everyman and Jules Verne. Oberst even alludes to Bright Eyes' previous album in "Firewall."
One of the album's most notable features is its cohesiveness. A phrase, such as, "We are starting over" will appear in one song, and then "You keep starting over" will be heard two songs later.
Starting anew is one of the many themes present throughout "The People's Key," which is a bit ironic because "The People's Key" is Bright Eyes' final album.
While the instrumentation in "The People's Key" is different than what one would typically encounter in a Bright Eyes record, I was let down by the lack of variety. However, Oberst has proven once again that he is one of the most important songwriters of our generation.
I am hoping "The People's Key" is not the last we hear of Mr. Oberst.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars