Conor Oberst has grown up. He’s proven that he’s much more than the sad and confused singer that first debuted with Bright Eyes in 1998. “The People’s Key”, Bright Eyes’ seventh (and perhaps final) album release, has turned into a showcase of the personal growth of Oberst as a songwriter.
“The People’s Key”, released Feb. 15, is an album that had many longtime fans worried. With Oberst’s recent involvement with more mature projects such as The Mystic Valley Band and Monsters of Folk, projects that saw him leave behind the wide-eyed, depressive reflections of Bright Eyes earlier albums, fans were left wondering how this would effect the style expected of Bright Eyes.
“It seems like everything I do musically, I tend to lose a few fans and gain a few fans, and it all kind of evens out. It’s never for shock value or wanting to alienate the audience in some way. We don’t try to do anything other than follow our interests, which are obviously a moving target,” said Oberst in an interview with Billboard.
The maturity of his recent work has transcended into the new album with flair. The lyrics have evolved beyond his bad trips, drugs, and scared outlook on the world around him. Instead, we’re met with a wiser, stronger-voiced Oberst who discusses theories of singularity and nods to rastafarianism.
The subject is a departure of his last album, boasting about Americana and organic instrumentalism. Our journey instead exists through a science fiction world where the affects of technology and human interaction are spun with a melodic, yet electronic beat.
“I wanted to make a record that was modern- sounding and steer clear of some of my tendencies, melodically. We’re over the Americana, rootsy, whatever that sound is. So we very much wanted it to be rocking and, for lack of a better term, contemporary, or modern,” said Oberst.
While the subject of the album may be something new for Bright Eyes, many things are left unchanged. Original members Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott return to create an album full of hauntingly beautiful yet simple tracks.
As the album begins, we’re met with the spoken word of Denny Brewer, a friend Oberst made on the road. At first, it sounds like random ramblings about alien visitors, the time space continuum, and goodness knows what else. Oddly enough, they work as fabulous transitions into “Firewall” and “Ladder Song” as well as a portal out of the album in an uplifting message during “One for You, One for Me.”
“A lot of people could dismiss his ideas as conspiracy theories but, to me, as far out there as this stuff is, there’s so much truth in it. People’s perception of it is different and one person’s reality is another person’s fantasy and vice versa,” said Oberst in a recent interview with Spinner.
“Every new day is a new gift; it’s a song of redemption,” starts ‘Jejune Stars’ one of the catchiest songs on the album. It’s catchy in a way many Bright Eyes songs rival to be. It’s not sad nor is it baneful, but an abstract reminder to to look inside one’s self and evaluate how and why we are where we are.
Another personal favorite is ‘Ladder Song’. The moment the listener hears it, we’re thrown back to the classic simplicity and emotion that a song can bring. Of the tracks on the album, this is the most like the older Bright Eyes songs featuring a brilliant piano solo, showcasing another aspect of Oberst’s growth.
As a hardcore Bright Eyes fan over the last ten years, words could not express the anticipation I had as the release for this album drew closer. Would it follow the style of “Cassadaga” or would they throw back to one of their earlier albums like “Lifted” or “Fevers and Mirrors”? “People’s Key” has taken every expectation I had and surpassed it with flying colors.
Within moments of the first listen, this album no longer feels like something new. It falls right back into the comfort zone one expects from Bright Eyes. With rumors of this being the band’s last album together before members split for new projects, they show listeners that they’ve come full circle. This album is best farewell they could of given us as fans.