Review Summary: Bright Eyes is dead and there is no twist to the story.
It has been apparent for quite some time that Conor Oberst was restless with the strummed and claustrophobic confines of his earlier records; between the electronic forays of Digital Ash
in 2005 and the happy-go-lucky(/luckier) tone of his 2008 solo debut was a very clear indication that the days of 'Lua' and such simple tunes were being traded off for gradually more diverse sounds. This was never necessarily a huge issue because Oberst's songwriting remained wholly in-tact, dominating the new textures he tried out, even on 2007's Cassadaga, an album deemed sub-par by critics and fans on the whole.
Unfortunately, as he grows musically more adventurous, the original and initial charm and essence of Oberst's lyricism becomes muddied. It isn't lost entirely, but few lines on The People's Key
- the band's most daring album to date - really leave a lasting impression, and as such Bright Eyes lose the potential they always had to make a truly colossal record, even as they're shooting for the stars and grander contexts. When Oberst declared with all his might on 'Road To Joy' that failure always sounded better
he was so, so correct, and that's why these whirring machines and noises do not suit him; he is still the endearing loser that he always was, but all of that gets dragged down underneath waves of spacey effects and arbitrary stops and starts.
This perhaps sounds like a complaint that Bright Eyes are no longer the same band that they were ten years ago, but all this comes from a perspective which appreciates Digital Ash and Cassadaga and sees no discernible difference in quality between the two - The People's Key
is not just a different
Bright Eyes album, blending the stranger side of his back catalogue with electronics and hallucinogens, it is genuinely the breaking of Bright Eyes at the centre, the abandonment of a lyrical focus and simple relatability that made them such a joy or fantastic pain to listen to. The only track here with real impetus is 'Triple Spiral' and it's also the most accessible; this is no coincidence.
On The People's Key
, Oberst sounds like a bit part in the songs he used to completely own in spite of his self-deprecation and the end result is a very definitely 'fresh' Bright Eyes album still peppered with the same resonant lyricism and life perspectives but lacking in punch on both a sonic and songwriting level. No number of vocal effects and double-bass pedals (yeah, I know, right") will ever overthrow songs like 'First Day Of My Life,' and it seems increasingly likely that the times of Bright Eyes exploiting that beautiful simplicity are over. And if they are, then Bright Eyes is dead. Doesn't mean they can't be reborn, but this album is no kind of pheonix.