[ALBUM REVIEW] Bright Eyes – The People’s Key

Conor Oberst returns for one more album under the Bright Eyes monkier. Oberst is retiring the name for a more different sound. One has to wonder will it be the Mystic Valley band that he continues with or will it be something different. In Oberst’s long tenure as Bright Eyes he has done some strange sounds and some pretty good work. Does the People’s Key hold up to his classic work?

Track listing

No. Title Length
1. “Firewall” 7:17
2. “Shell Games” 3:56
3. “Jejune Stars” 4:10
4. “Approximate Sunlight” 4:25
5. “Haile Selassie” 4:33
6. “A Machine Spiritual (In the People’s Key)” 4:20
7. “Triple Spiral” 3:51
8. “Beginner’s Mind” 3:55
9. “Ladder Song” 3:58
10. “One For You, One For Me” 6:37
Total length:
47:02

The album starts off with the opening track “Firewall” and it starts off well odd. There is some man talking, telling some strange story. I’m slowly being turned off by how there is this bible talk to the song at the very beginning. From what I have heard this album is not that great, and that lets me down a bit. I had been waiting for a new Bright Eyes album for a few years but now here goes this strange talk on the first track. I am so lost here so far this guy seems to be talking nonsense and I know it’s not Conor talking. Finally the guitar kicks in and the vocals hiss through. Lyrically this song seems to be lacking the typical Oberst style as if he just threw it together at the last moment, missing the heart. For the heir of Bob Dylan this is a huge disappointment.This song feels like a semi-let down though as an opener and feels more like a closing track. Oberst puts his heart into it but it lacks a soul.

“Shell Games” was the first single off the album. A piano haunts the background as Oberst begins to coo lyrics that seem to be the typical Bright Eyes style. The subject remains the same but Oberst shows maturity in his song writing as he seemingly has evolved into something more than the emo kid that grew up in Nebraska. Somehow this track seems to make up for the last one’s awful start.

“Jejune Stars” starts off as the heavy tune on the album but once Oberst begins to sing the lyrics you begin to feel the somber mood set in. Sure it’s more of a faster paced track nonetheless but it’s still better than the first song. I like this tune so far. But it doesn’t top Fevers and Mirrors or I’m Awake It’s Morning. Those two albums stand out as superior Bright Eyes records, while here he tries to harken back to those days but it seems to fall short. This song closes strong and leads into the end with a talk from the same damn guy from the beginning. Alright I don’t like that.

“Approximate Sunlight” is a nice tune at the beginning. Starting off nice and slow and having that eerie beat and instrumental that just adds to the haunting sound of Oberst’s vocal stylings. The lyrics feel dark and brooding much like previous works of Oberst. This song stands out from the others due to the fact that there seems to be something there, if you know what I mean. The track doesn’t have much variance to it so that’s alright as it’s a good one.

“Halie Selassie” seems to continue the whole damn religious vibe this album has. It’s as if Oberst grew up and became a religious man and is writing about God and all these other biblical references. As the spoken word tracks have mentions to the bible. The lyrics here seem to be lacking and the instrumental feels like bland pop rock. I have come to expect way more from Oberst when it comes to music in general. I don’t know how I feel here. He goes on about the same stuff. The song isn’t terrible by any means other than lyrically and that where Oberst generally shines.

“A Machine Spiritual (A People’s Key)” is the sixth track of the album. The song has a heavy drum beat to it that hits at certain times with the other instruments having a very small role and Oberst’s vocals being the main thing that stands out. This has a strange sound to it, while it may not sound like a typical Bright Eyes song it seems like something Oberst would do as maybe some other monkier. At this point in the album we are trucking through the album and moving down to the end. For the second time this record Oberst name drops Hitler. This is weird. The song isn’t as bad once you get into it as Oberst seemingly eases into it. To close out they have the same guy talking. Great, I hate this part of the song.

The next song kicks off with Oberst cooing the first lines of the song. “Triple Spiral” starts off good. It feels like something you would expect from Oberst. As if he was teasing us for so long. The track is a faster paced than some of the others. But sadly it has a more pop sound to it if you listen carefully. This song does have a more poppy feel to it. Granted it’s got a nice beat but the lyrics aren’t super catchy. Where is the Bright Eyes of old I find myself asking more often than not.

“Beginner’s Mind” sounds more like the folky, indie, emo stylings of Oberst from the old. His voice hovering as it always does with the guitar slowly playing mellow notes up until a certain point. You just wait for it to go wrong. It seems like this album pays some homage to the previous albums but then just throws it away at some point. I had hopes for something like Fevers and Mirrors or even I’m Awake It’s Morning. Now don’t get me wrong the songs aren’t awful. I think it’s just the fact that there are high hopes for this album that it seemingly disappoints. As the song slowly dies out it fades out as Oberst’s voice gets the last bit of tracking.

“Ladder Song” is the ninth song. I love how it’s just him and a piano. It seems though that is the song with the heart and the soul. I could be totally wrong. But I’m not. This song was written about a close friend of Oberst’s who committed suicide right when the album was near finishing. The song seems to be the strongest on the album and the most personal. Both lyrically and sounding wise. I have no idea why it takes something so deep and serious for Oberst to return to the roots, the emotional draw that he had on previous records. While the subject matter is somber and saddening it’s still something we had been looking to.

The final track seems to lose whatever heart we had in the last one, “One For You, One For Me” seems a tad bit preachy. The lyrics and the beat just seem to be lacking something here and that saddens me. This song doesn’t even seem to get any better half way through. And to wrap it up the same guy does some talking at the very end.

My final thoughts on the seventh and final album from Oberst and Bright Eyes is this. You lack the heart and soul from previous albums, the emotional pull, the power you used to have easily and this is what you turn out. An album that is but a shell of the man Oberst used to be. I know that’s brutal to say but it’s true. The album gets a weak 6.5/10 from me. I only wish Oberst would go back and make one more Bright Eyes album just to make us get over this one.

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About Angerbanjo

As passionate as one can be about certain topics it is hard to make a living with that passion, that being said my passion for nerd culture, modern music and video gaming has yet to translate into anything moderately successful, that and my degree in electronic media, but hey at least I can use that journalism minor. View all posts by Angerbanjo

One response to “[ALBUM REVIEW] Bright Eyes – The People’s Key

  • jstncrns

    oh man! who ever this guy is writing this, i can’t believe you dogged this album like you did! was it different than his earlier stuff? yes but that doesn’t make it bad by any stretch! i’ll agree with you on the mention of hitler, i had to listen several times to make sure that he was really saying what he said. not sure what that is all about. and the dude talking!? that seems to be right up conor’s alley. i’ll admit that at first listen i didn’t like it all that much but as i listened to it, it grew and grew and turned into a great album. lyrically it is spot on. musically? probably not his greatest work but again, i’ve heard MUCH worse. i am saddened though that this is the last of the bright eye’s we’ll hear.

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