Review Summary: Shock alert! Conor Oberst has crafted a stunning country-rock album that may well convert even long-time haters into admirers!
Prior to this, my Bright Eyes experience extended to just Lifted, Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground
and I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
, also known as 'The Two Obvious Ones'. My opinions on the man were mixed. I can't possibly deny that when I hear lyrics like 'No-one likes to sleep out in the gutter/Sometimes that's just the most comfortable place', hairs on my neck stand up, but the music could be a little indistinct and derivative (the song those lyrics come from lifts its melody very obviously from Beethoven), and his voice could be really, really, really irritating. Sometimes I've come away from listening to him genuinely believing he's incapable of holding a note.
"Road To Joy" was the only song I took away from those two albums, but it does get pretty heavy rotation on my iTunes, and it's on a buttload of my mp3 player's playlists. Bright Eyes became another great example of an artist I want to really enjoy, and would keep giving chances to, but that I just couldn't really throw myself into fully.
is EXACTLY the record I want to hear from Bright Eyes at this point. It blows both the two I've heard out of the water by even track two - "Four Winds" is effortlessly brilliant, and thrilling in the way it suggests that Bright Eyes circa-2007 can probably knock out stuff on this level in his sleep, rather than labouring the point and alienating the listener like he has in this point. Oberst's voice, in fact, doesn't appear until 60 seconds in - until that point, he lets the violin take the melody. Little touches like that make this album just seem so much more free, less forced than his past output.
is very much a band's album - the pedal steel guitar, the violin, the organ, the piano, even the drums have their turns to shine here. It's a format that, as far as I'm aware, is new for Bright Eyes, or it's at least one that's far more fully realised on this occasion. It results in a sound that is far more obviously indebted to country than anything I've heard from him before. There's music here you can easily imagine having come out of Nashville in the late 70s. It's also music that would probably have made The Eagles cack themselves had it been competing in the same marketplace. This is a country-rock record that re-dresses the balance towards country, becoming basically a country album that's strong, even swaggering enough to be welcomed by the rock set.
So yes, a band's albums. It just so happens that this band has a very, very good frontman. Because, for the first time, Oberst's voice here is robust. He sounds so much stronger and more confident here, perhaps because of the clearly able musicians surrounding him. Here, when he sings about not knowing his home or his place and feeling uncertain about what life is meant to be for him, he does it wistfully, with a sense of acceptance. At times, you can even imagine a knowing smirk on his face as he delivers a verse like 'I had a lengthy discussion about The Power of Myth
/With a post-modern author who didn't exist/In this fictitious world all reality twists/I was a hopeless romantic, now I'm just turning tricks'.
No matter what way I cut this, the likes of "Four Winds", "Soul Singer in a Session Band", "Classic Cars", and "No-One Would Riot For Less" are just damn, damn good songs that form the heart of an album that is touching, enjoyable, melodic, and basically devoid of weak points. So far, this is 2007's most welcome shock, and I definitely expect this album to be riding high when I get around to a 'Best of 2007' list.