Editor’s Note: Unable to put my own thoughts on the new Bright Eyes album into words, I called in some big guns in the form of my good friend Jeremy Herbst. He’s the one who originally introduced me to Bright Eyes, so let’s give him a big Chicago Tunes welcome!
It’s been more than a decade since Bright Eyes debut Fevers And Mirrors was unleashed onto a public that was steadily approaching years of George W. Bush, political wars, economic upheaval, Hurricane Katrina, and a mounting sense of danger looming on the not-too-distant horizon.
Conor Oberst was a twenty-year-old singer/songwriter with a flare for the theatrical and a knack for sensitive metaphors that sometimes sounded like they came from his girlfriend’s diary. By the time 2002’s epic Lifted; or The Story Is In the Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground album was released, he was being hailed as indie rock’s newest wonderboy. And while his music and persona was polarizing, no one could deny his songwriting capacity.
Oberst, now thirty, has come of age right along with the rest of us. Those who have been listening to him from the beginning will hear the maturity in his newest album The People’s Key.
There is barely a weak track on the album. “Shell Games” is a poppy rocker. “Haile Selassie” has a lighthearted melody with the unadorned lyrical weight of a Bob Marley tune. “One For You, One For Me” also nods to Rasta music.
Conor has noted Reggae as an influence on this album, and while it is not necessarily noticeable in the music, it is in the lyrics. Now, Rastafarianism may not be for everyone, but the themes of finding acceptance from within and the premise of love, redemption, freedom, and mercy should ring universal. Spirituality is all over the album.
The musical filler is light, but Oberst does characteristically dust the songs with the loopy musings of Randy Brewer, whose spacey narrative about the road to enlightenment somehow acts as wacky adhesive.
Oberst has transitioned from emo-punk hipster to rootsy troubadour to mystical-soothsayer. It’s refreshing to hear from an artist who continues to evolve in unexpected directions, yet still sound like the band you fell in love with way back when. And like Randy Brewer rambles “Love’s always been the message.”
- Bright Eyes will be playing a sold out show at Riviera Theatre March 15th.
- The People’s Key is available now on iTunes.