Review Summary: This is a great indie rock album from the 90's with some poetic lyrics and catchy riffs from Bright Eyes
This is one of the less known and less listened to Bright Eyes albums. Being a Bright Eyes fan I decided I wanted to go back through Bright Eyes' past. I was pleasantly surprised because although they didn't have nearly as much money to have people working on the record it still turned out just as good or even better than their newer albums. Although the recording quality isn't very good the songwriting quality is amazing as expected from Bright Eyes. I'm going to do a song by song review of this album.
This album like other Bright Eyes albums this starts and continues through with random noises and sounds that you can't really make out.
If Winter Ends- This is actually one of the strongest songs on the whole album if you can get through the 45 seconds of random children screaming and noises at the beginning. You can tell that this song is talking about winter and how it's is depressing and something about a girl that he misses (like most of their songs). There's also a lot of talking about self-destruction ex. "Or I swear I'm going to drive it off a f*cking cliff", references to drinking and lines like "I swear that I'm dying, slowly but it's happening." Even though he is referring to himself it's still very relatable that feeling that you will never be able to get out of the horrible winter darkness. This whole album is generally talking about the seasons in my opinion. It starts with him in this song talking about how he is depressed in winter and ends with him talking really about why summer isn't any better. (9.5/10)
Padraic My Prince- This is a classic Bright Eyes song. It tells the story of a baby drowning in a bathtub and I guess Conor Oberst (the singer) feels guilty like it was his fault that he died. Saying "So tonight to compensate I will poison myself, another coughing, shaking, fit on the bathroom floor." and calling himself selfishly sick and self-absorbed. In my opinion this song doesn't really fit into the album well but still is able to stand its' ground as a song alone. I've always wondered whether this story was true or not but Conor Oberst has never really clarified so no one can be sure. He does mention it in the interview at the end of An Attempt to Tip the Scales and there's a line about it in Cartoon Blues. (9/10)
Contrast and Compare- This album was still going strong for me with this next song just generally talking about depression assuming that we are still in the winter season. If you have or have ever been depressed than you know exactly what it feels like but often cannot put it into words as well as they have in this song. It starts off with Conor Oberst saying "It's 7 so there's 5 hours before 1998" 13 YEARS since then. It's crazy. This song features Neely Jenkins (singer of Tilly and the Wall) and Conor Oberst's former neighbor and girlfriend. Although some would disagree I think that their voices sound great together. Even though it doesn't REALLY fit in with the album I think it's a fantastic song strong lyrics, music and a great sound altogether. (10/10)
The City Has Sex- This is one of the more popular songs on this album. Although it is more upbeat it still has the same depressing lyrics. He does mention the concept (I know this is not OFFICIALLY a concept album but really Mr. Oberst has been quoted saying that "All of my albums are slight concept albums" and really it does carry a theme so I will call it a concept.) talking about Spring and how you should bury your sadness so it can bloom or something. This song is considerably shorter than the other songs but it makes it sweet right? Conor Oberst screams a lot of words that you really can't understand unless you read the lyrics which a shame because some of them are meaningful and stuff. I'm not as impressed with this song as I am with the first 3. (8/10)
The Difference in the Shades- So if I've been counting right we've gone through Winter with If Winter Ends, Spring with The City Has Sex and now we've moved on to summer. In fact the first line is "Now that it's June we'll sleep out in the garden". I think this is a great song and Conor's singing is very good compared to the other songs on this album. I don't really have as much to say about this song. It fits in with the rest of the album and continues the concept. This song as well is a good song just by itself. (9/10)
Touch- In my opinion this is where the album gets... different. And it's not a good kind of different. The song starts out with some random electronic noises, it’s like they just got bored of the sound they had at the beginning so they just decided to add some synths to make it sound more sophisticated. I feel like this song could have been really awesome if they just took out SOME of the synthesizers and made it simpler like The Difference in the shades. The lyrics are still good but slightly different then the first four they are strangely more sexual or something. (6.5/10
June on the West Coast- Even though I said that Touch is where the album takes a turn I actually really like this song. It is about wanting to find somewhere where you feel happy and the people truly understand you and that's feeling of being truly understood is something I think everyone desires. He mentions visiting several places in the west of the USA (Winnetka, CA, Mesa, AZ, Olympia WA, San Diego CA) In terms of following the theme he actually MENTIONS the fact that he was depressed thinking about the girl he loves and his broken heart in winter but then spring came and he felt better ("I wouldn't have to bring up my so badly broken heart and all those months I just wanted to sleep; and spring it did come slowly but I guess it did its' part cause' my heart has thawed and continues to beat.) This is one my favorite songs on the album and one of the best. (9.5/10)
Pull My Hair- This song is one of my least favorites on the album. It seems that this song and Touch could've just begun their own album. The lyrics are obviously sexual which isn't necessarily a bad thing it's just a little strange since it's not subliminal or a reference as it usually is in Bright Eyes but is just obvious (“When you pull on my hair and bite me like that”). I like it more than Touch but it just doesn't have the same feeling as most of the songs on this album for me. (7/10)
Empty Canyon, Empty Canteen- This is a bonus track which is also kind of a strange song to put on this album. It seems more like it belongs on A Collection of Song Written and Recorded 1995-1997. Even though it really isn't that long it seems endless and is truthfully just very random. It doesn't fit the theme; it doesn't fit with the rest of the songs or anything. It's not bad just really strange with breathing in the back and I don't know. (6.5/10)
A Poetic Retelling of an Unfortunate Seduction- This song brought the album back for me. It has great lyrics and paints a detailed beautiful picture in your mind. The song talks about being seduced by a foreign girl who sounds a little scary (references being tied up with pearls and being kept in a cage) This seems like a dream but I also think that this girl he keeps talking about is a metaphor for something else. This uses the obviously sexual lyrics well making it fit in with the rest of the album. This is overall great song which I think would have been a better end to the album than the next song. (10/10)
Tereza and Tomas- This song is excessively slow, far too long and overly repetitive 3 of my least favorite song qualities combined. There is a lot of time where there is really no singing and just repeats the same riff. This is probably the worst song on the album. (5/10)
Contrast and Compare (Remix) - After about 1 minute of no sound a different version of Contrast and Compare without Neely Jenkins begins. I actually prefer the first version but I’m not going to change the rating since essentially it’s the same song.
This album starts out fantastically with great songwriting and musicianship but begins to lose its’ way as it gets further into it. There are a few classic Bright Eyes songs and he was only 18 when this was released! If you are already a Bright Eyes fan you should listen to this album; if you are a fan of indie acoustic rock, listen to this album.
Songs to listen to: The City Has Sex, Contrast and Compare, June on the West Coast
Songs to Skip: Touch, Tereza and Tomas, Empty Canyon, Empty Canteen