Bright Eyes - The People's Key
Let's face it: Conor Oberst, at this point, is probably past his prime. He'll never make another Lifted or I'm Wide Awake It's Morning or [insert your favorite Bright Eyes album here] again - but maybe that's okay. Though it lacks the passion and poignancy of early Bright Eyes, The People's Key is still a very good album, perhaps not a work of genius, but it does prove Oberst and company have still got a few tricks left up their sleeves. The People's Key takes sounds Oberst has already experimented with and twists them into new if not earth-shattering forms. Songs like "Shell Games" and "Haile Selassie" wouldn't have felt out of place on Cassadaga had it been more energetic. The unexpectedly choppy guitar that shows up intermittently throughout "Jejune Stars" is probably the closest Oberst will ever come to Desaparecidos again and the subdued, introspective "Ladder Song" has most in common with the singer-songwriter folk of I'm Wide Awake It's Morning. Though these are all good songs, they never quite match Oberst's best. The songs that do are the ones that fall a little further outside the box. The chilling and sparse electronic elements of "Approximate Sunlight" bring to mind Digital Ash in a Digital Urn but it quickly becomes apparent that the song reaches just beyond this influence to become something truly refreshing. Simple but evocative lyrically, containing imagery like "The Quinceanera dress she bought was unstitched with bullets," with an unsettlingly monotonous chorus, it is the emotional pinnacle of the entire album. Another highlight is "Triple Spiral," which, with its girl group-inspired backing vocals from Laura Burhenn, recalls Cassadaga's "Make a Plan to Love Me" if it were catchier and less treacly and actually, um, a good song. It's playful and upbeat in a way that most Bright Eyes songs aren't, though the lyrics remain characteristically dark. For the most part, The People's Key finds Oberst treading familiar territory and only rarely besting himself. However, it is still a worthy addition to his impressive oeuvre.