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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bright Eyes: The People’s Key

On the same day Bright Eyes released their eighth studio album, The People’s Key - released today - lead singer Conor Oberst turned 31-years-old.

At just the ripe age of 31, Oberst has already accomplished what many musicians dream of. He’s shared the stage and has rocked out with Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young, he was named songwriter of the year in 2008 by Rolling Stone Magazine and Spin Magazine went a step further calling him the “most devastating songwriter of his generation” as well as “Their Generation’s Bob Dylan.” He is clearly well-respected.

On top of the eight studio albums with Bright Eyes — the band has also released seven EPs, a live album and a few B-side albums — Oberst has also released five solo albums

Truth is — and just like Dylan — Oberst is not much of a singer (which even he himself acknowledges on 2005s “Road to Joy” where he says “I could have been a famous singer if had someone else’s voice.”)

Oberst/Bright Eyes is an acquired taste.

Throughout the years Bright Eyes music, as well as Obert’s solo material, has transformed from indie rock (Fevers & Mirrors and Lifted) to folk-rock (I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning), to experimental (Digital Ash in a Digital Urn) to pretty much straight up country (Cassadaga) all leading up to Tuesday’s release of The People’s Key, the band’s first in almost four years, which is kind of a mixed bag.

Only a 10-song album, it’s easily their best since 2005s I’m Wide Awake, however doesn’t top it, nor does it hover over Fevers or Lifted and at this point of their career, I doubt anything ever will.

Key is a much more spirited and impressive effort than Digital and Cassadaga with more replay power than those two albums offered. Digital was too electronical and Cassadaga, while good, was too country for me.

Key is more of a modern rock/adult contemporary album. It’s not too indie, folk or country and has plenty of standout tracks including “Jejune Stars,” “Approximate Sunlight,” “A Machine Spiritual,” “Beginner’s Mind” and “Ladder Song.”

The lead track and closer, “Firewall” and “One For You, One For Me” respectively, are a bit drawn out and “Firewall” is ruined by a two-minute opening speech (which almost all Bright Eyes’ albums open with) and a pretty weak breakdown near the six-minute mark. If it were just the three minute track of Oberst's soft vocals on top of the quiet guitar rift, I'd suspect it'd be one of the better tracks on the album. “One For You, One For Me,” sounds like it could have been placed on Digital, I don’t care too much for it, but I think I’m in the minority on that one as plenty of kids on the interweb seem to be flocking toward that tune.

If you’re not a fan of Bright Eyes, I doubt there is anything released on this album that would change your stance on Oberst and the boys because as I mentioned in the beginning, Oberst/Bright Eyes is an acquired taste. If you can put up with his shaky, pitchy voice, it’s another fine album in Oberst’s catalogue.

By Nick Carrabine


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