Under Review: Bright Eyes – The People’s Key

In the years since Conor Oberst won over hearts and minds with Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground and I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, it seems like he’s been going out of his way to alienate every last Bright Eyes fan. To be fair, I thought Cassadaga was a pretty fine effort, but it seemed that the Bright Eyes burden was becoming increasingly difficult for Oberst to bear. After Cassadaga, Oberst released a few albums under his own name and, of course, became one of the Monsters Of Folk alongside Bright Eyes’ multi-instrumentalist/producer Mike Mogis. Back with Bright Eyes for what might be the final time, Oberst presents us with The People’s Key, a record which, despite a few highlights, is not as universal as its name implies.


Continuing Oberst’s obsession with the melding of music and found sound, The People’s Key begins with “Firewall,” a slow build that mirrors Cassadaga’s “Clairaudients.” With any other group, Denny Brewer’s preacher-like musings might be used for humorous effect; his precise ramblings sounding like a sermon he’s delivered to deaf ears countless times. Clips of Brewer appear sporadically throughout The People’s Key, but they prove to be more distracting than thought-provoking. Over the years, the Bright Eyes songbook has fallen victim to Oberst’s wandering ideas and ideologies. Vague images of Rastafarianism (“Haile Selassie”), the Holocaust (“A Machine Spiritual (In The People’s Key)”), and false idols (“Shell Games”) abound, but they’re rarely used as more than interesting-sounding topics. Part of that lack of conviction comes from the melodic hit that Bright Eyes’ music has taken over the past few albums.

The People’s Key buries its hooks to ostensibly put more emphasis on Oberst’s lyrics. Thing is, the music is what made dense, heady songs like “Land Locked Blues” and “Four Winds” so palatable. Even late-album standouts “Triple Spiral” and the delicate “Ladder Song” aren’t enough to keep The People’s Key from being rather disappointing. I haven’t decided if it’s all that bad that this is most likely the last Bright Eyes album. On one hand, Oberst should really try to go out with a better record, but it also seems like he lost interest in this project some time ago.

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~ by E. on February 16, 2011.

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