Review Summary: The sound of loneliness makes me happier.
The thing that stands out initially about Bright Eyes main man Conor Oberst is his age. At a mere 27 years old, he has had a musical career that is more prolific than some musicians twice his age (he started recording at age 13). Comparisons with Bob Dylan were of course unavoidable; maturity beyond his years coupled with the aesthetics of his sound (simplicity, honesty) created a parallel that was undeniable. The biggest difference between Oberst and Dylan is how they progressed over the years. Whereas Dylan constantly reinvented himself, Oberst has merely chosen to refine his initial sound and expand upon it. Smart, considering that by doing that he has avoided the pitfalls that Dylan hit - namely, a number of musical phases that were less than stellar.
For most listeners, the biggest draw to Bright Eyes is Oberst's lyrics. Perhaps the best description that can be applied to his lyrics is something that the aforementioned Dylan used to describe the music of The Clancy Brothers: "[With their music, they could] Take a sword, cut off your head, and then weep." Heartfelt, melancholy, bare, and honest, Oberst is able to deftly find the source of the world's angst and troubles, and turn it into something relative and familiar. While he might not write lyrics that will always cheer you up, he can certainly make you feel as if someone's been in your position before, cultivating an inherent feeling that's not quite happiness, but then again, it's not quite sadness either. The best thing about Oberst is that he can, with his words, rouse people to take inspiration from their sadness and negative feelings. In a sense, he won't solve your problems for you, but he'll give you the strength to solve them yourself.
The best examples of his lyrical prowess are contained within 2005's I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
, where Oberst's personality and melancholia are able to shine clearly through without most of the musical pretensions (I don't say that in a negative way) of Lifted...
or Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
. While the occasional dissonance/electronic influences of those albums gave Oberst's words a new forum for expression, songs such as "Poison Oak" and "Lua" wouldn't pack the same emotional punch without their simplicity and lack of overbearing arrangements that bog down some of Bright Eyes' other songs. It's amazing how such seemingly simple words can be so inspirational and emotional, like the last verse in "First Day of My Life":
So if you want to be with me,
With these things there’s no telling
We just have to wait and see
But I’d rather be working for a paycheck
Than waiting to win the lottery
Besides, maybe this time is different
I mean, I really think you like me
Of course, Conor's vocal delivery can't be ignored. Maligned by some and heralded by others, his voice is youthful yet not without a sense of world-weariness, shaky yet somehow still strangely confident. In a soundoff on this very site, it was described as a "dying goat's bleat," which at times is actually strangely accurate, although it just adds to the overall emotional value of his music. While his words are amazing enough on paper, it's the simple lines such as "Yeah they go wild" in "Old Soul Song" that create a range of new feelings in the listener when hoarsely shouted by Oberst, and his rousing performance in "Road to Joy" is one of the album's most exciting moments. Musically, Bright Eyes is all about creating a backing for Oberst. Simple, catchy acoustic progressions make up most of the songs, accented primarily by piano and slide guitar, along with the occasional guest vocals from Emmylou Harris or Jim James of My Morning Jacket.
What Oberst has created with Bright Eyes is, essentially, a soundtrack to life - music to smile and cry to, music to find a 'yellow bird' of your own to fall in love with, and perhaps most of all, music to merely become, inevitably, lost in. For someone like me who "never thought this life was possible," Bright Eyes is a source of constant inspiration, whatever his detractors may say.