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The People’s Key – Bright Eyes

Feb 27th 2011
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The People's Key - Bright EyesBright Eyes
The People's Key
Score: 82








Bright Eyes, likely Conor Oberst’s most celebrated project, released its newest, and possibly last album earlier this month. The album, named The People’s Key, is a solid album in construction, to say the least. There are things to like about The People’s Key as well as elements that are less likely to please, but the former category strongly outweighs the latter in every respect.

The first notable point of The People’s Key is the non-transition between the spoken opening words of the album and the rest of “Firewall.” The awkward few seconds that completely fail to link the tone or even rhythm of the two sections are thankfully followed by a much more promising second half of a track. The plodding guitar is contrasted initially by the first burst of percussion, and the gradual blending of the two elements provides a key and highly interesting point of interest through the remaining minutes.

From this shaky start and respectable recovery, The People’s Key proceeds with a well contrasting and generally entertaining set of tracks. The general liveliness of the album makes easy work of keeping the album afloat, and the wealth of unique tracks is well received. There are a few that fade into the background, but that is always preferable to a set of initially interesting yet utterly monotonous tracks. All in all, Bright Eyes makes short work of The People’s Key. It’s not the most incredibly exciting album ever, but it really is quite good.

Oberst’s vocals on The People’s Key haven’t changed much from what they’ve been on the rest of Bright Eyes’ work – still plaintive, still possessed of the depth that has distinguished much of Oberst’s work (with the notable exception of his work with the Mystic Valley Band). The People’s Key‘s instrumentals work to complement Oberst’s voice, further emphasizing the depth of both the music and of Oberst’s voice. It’s perhaps even more helpful that the mixing of Oberst’s voice, even when it’s pushed into the back, prevents it from ever seeming flat, instead creating new levels that further help to develop the music.

Though Oberst tends towards a single vocal style, it’s one that’s well-outfitted with the sort of embellishment that keeps such a style interesting, from the effects used liberally on his voice (see “Approximate Sunlight”), to the careful pronunciation of each line. It certainly doesn’t hurt that, on top of that, The People’s Key is written quite well, giving Oberst something interesting to sing about, whether it’s the surreal dream image of “swimming with you in that cenote the Heavens made with black fire” or the word-heavy metaphors of “Firewall,” where Oberst “make[s] toasts to the Caesars / Forcing down the dregs of December.” Along with Oberst’s words comes, as is usual for Bright Eyes, spoken word ravings about reptilians and pomegranates. It’s an odd way to begin and end an album, and one that certainly takes some getting used to – but it’s nonetheless an entertaining choice.

On the whole, while The People’s Key isn’t a perfect album, it’s certainly one of Bright Eyes’ best. Combining Oberst’s skilled vocals with intriguingly surreal lyrics and interesting instrumentals, The People’s Key, occasional missteps aside, comes off quite well. If The People’s Key is indeed Bright Eyes’ last album, as Oberst suggested in 2009 when he first announced the record, it’ll be a worthy send-off for a band that’s been around since the mid-90s.


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One Response

  1. A. Matheson says:

    I dug it. Agreed that the spoken-word samples fail to coalesce with the music all too often, but then again, I suppose post-Cassadaga, the rambling-sampled-mystic-vox come with the territory.

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