Review Summary: "To love and to be loved... let's just hope that is enough."
Conor Oberst has been making music since he was a young teenager, and on his previous works it certainly showed. While still a teenager he had not yet developed an ear for good melodies and because of this his songs suffered. His lyrics have always been worth listening to, but the absence of interesting melodies kept his music down. Listening to his earlier works, “A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997” or even “Letting Off the Happiness”, one can tell that there is a brilliant musician waiting to break out and be the voice of thousands of depressed teenagers who, like Conor, are struggling with their self-identity.
On his second album “Fevers and Mirrors” it seemed Conor had finally learned how to write a complete song. Songs such as “The Calender Hung Itself” and “Arienette” are some of the best songs Oberst has ever written and prove that he can put lyrics and melodies together to make a great song. However, some of the songs on the album, namely “The Center of the World” and “A Song to Pass the Time”, failed to possess the emotion that was present earlier on the record. With “Lifted or the Story Is In the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground” Conor has crafted not only his best album, but his most quintessential album because it represents everything that Bright Eyes’ work stands for. Everything Conor has ever strived to reach for, with his music, is present on this album. There’s the pointless intro on “The Big Picture”, the struggle with his self-identity on “Method Acting” and "False Advertising” and the pretentious closer “Let’s Not *** Ourselves (To Love and to Be Loved).
On “Lifted...” every song has lyrics that are not only personal, but lyrics that anyone who has every felt lonely or unloved can easily relate to. With lines like, “*** my face *** my name They are brief and false advertising” it’s hard not to relate and feel a closer connection to Conor. He seems to write these lyrics with ease and through 13 songs that spread out to over an hour long that is not something that is easily done. Anyone that listened to Bright Eyes before this release knows that Conor was always been capable of making a complete album that was not only lyrically well written, but also possessed the melodies to hold the listener’s attention, and that potential is finally realized on “Lifted...”. “Bowl of Oranges” is one of the standout tracks on the album because it embodies what Conor and the rest of Bright Eyes wanted to accomplish. It has Conor’s captivating lyrics, “ Of love’s uneven remainders Our lives are fractions of a whole But if the world could remain within a frame Like a painting on a wall Then I think we’d see the beauty And stand staring in awe”, and it also boasts, what I believe to be, Conor’s most unique and original melody.
Another aspect of Conor’s music that needed improvement, especially with Bright Eyes, is his voice. Before “Lifted...” Conor didn’t seem to know what kind of voice to use for his music. His voice is obviously limited, so he has had to find ways to make it effective for his music’s sake. On “Fevers and Mirrors” it seemed Conor was confused as to what type of voice was best for the music and because of this the album faltered a bit. However, on “Lifted...”, Conor has found the voice that suits him the best and it takes the album to a whole new level. Whether you love it or absolutely dread it, Conor’s nasally voice dominates the album and works on every song. Gone are the tedious moments where Conor’s voice drags the entire song down.
A huge part of this album’s beauty is that while listening to it the songs don’t go on for too long. The songs are at the perfect length and what helps is the atmosphere that is present on the entire album. “Don’t Know When But a Day is Gonna Come” is the perfect example. While listening to this song it’s hard not to imagine a world that is black, deserted and completely forgotten about and Conor’s lyrics and melodies build this image. It truly is remarkable and it helps that the song is set up by the wonderful “Bowl of Oranges”. Perhaps the most important song on the album is “Let’s Not *** Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved). This is because it is a 10 minute epic, in which, Conor relates himself to the world around him and how he sees it. It is a poweful country-western type song that sums up the album perfectly with the line, “To love and to be loved... Let’s just hope that is enough.”
“Lifted...” is an album that needs to be listened to with an open mind because it is lengthy and sometimes Conor’s lyrics can completely turn people off. However, those who are looking for an album with substance or just looking for an album to help pass the time look no further than “Lifted or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground”. It is an album that shows the full potential of Conor Oberst, and Bright Eyes and what he is capable of when he sets his mind to it.