Review Summary: And this is how it ends
In a way I feel bad for Conor Oberst. Sure, he's been a music press darling since he was a teenager and just about every aspiring hipster girl has had the hots for him, but due to the limitless openness of his songwriting, it's as if there are hundreds of thousands of people that have purchased not only one of his albums, but a portrait of his soul. We, as music fans, have watched him grow from a timid, melodramatic little brat, to a drugged out and politicized young man locked in an existential crisis, and now with the release of his seventh album under the Bright Eyes moniker, and first since splitting to form the Mystic Valley Band, Conor Oberst is finally content with not only who he is, but his place in the world as well.
Now while this is good for Oberst, it has both its positives and negatives when it comes to his music. The unnervingly personal and explicit stories of introspective angst that so many people that are now in their early twenties came of age listening to and expect from Oberst we're lost in this transition. He still gives folks a glimpse of his inner workings, as can be seen in lines like, “My private life is an inside joke, and no one will explain it to me,” but such insights are now few and far between. The People's Key
walks a razor's edge, split between the musings of a man opening his eyes and peering outward for the first time in his 31 years and the same scared kid was trying to learn how to make himself feel better. Unfortunately he's still having growing pains, as while this split perspective offers a new look at Oberst's state of mind, the new age imagery can come off as a bit hokey and empty at times. It's not that any of it is bad or without merit, but without the catharsis that he built his name on it just seems as if something is missing, and that something is Oberst himself.
Like the lyrical aspect of The People's Key
the music itself is a work in flux. Eschewing the countrified folk sounds that he has built a reputation on since 2003's Lifted...
the sound on The People's Key
is rooted in electronics. True, this is not the first time that Oberst has dabbled with synth heavy music as his 2005 release Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
was an entirely electronic affair, but The People's Key
manages to sound more organic than Oberst's first attempt. The vintage tones used by long time Bright Eyes keyboardist and collaborator Nate Walcott provide a vibrant backdrop for Oberst's wordplay and are the heart of The People's Key
. It makes the songs seem like a well worn throwback given the indie community's current infatuation with the harsher side of electronic music.
If taking the statements made by Conor Oberst at face value, it looks as though The People's Key
will be the final chapter in the Bright Eyes saga, as Oberst has hinted at retiring the moniker over the past few years. Unfortunately, The People's Key
, while enjoyable, never comes together as it should, but if there is any consolation, the album's last track “One For You, One For Me” is the perfect culmination of every aspect of Oberst's career, mixing stunning instrumentals with the brimming insight and personality that has defined him since he released Fevers & Mirrors
at the age of 18. It is a more than fitting closing to a what has been one of the more enjoyable constants in the indie music scene over the last decade. If only the rest of the album lived up to it.