Thursday, June 4, 2020
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Turn Around, Bright Eyes

Courtesy of Saddle Creek

Today’s the day. The curtains are closing against a fading light. The end of that weird and wonderful journey that began in 1995. Today Bright Eyes releases their final album, “The People’s Key.”

The album begins with “Firewall.” To be expected, the track begins with a rambling, sermon-tinged intro similar to 2005’s “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” and 2007’s “Cassadega.” For more than two minutes, Randy Brewer, a Texan musician whom Conor Oberst met on the road, rambles on about universes and reptilian people.

“If there is no such thing as time, you’re already there, and you’re controlling this cycle … so the Sumerian tablets, they say the same thing like Genesis said, that there was chariots of fire that came into the sky … They walked like a man but had reptilian features.”

Although such a long introduction full of extraneous information may seem pointless, it helps to establish the mystical mood that permeates the album. Just as the introductions on “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” and “Cassadega,” “The People’s Key” contains a certain cyclical quality that echoes and reverberates in the mind long after the final sounds on the last track fade.

Then Oberst’s guitar comes in, reaching out from a void. The whole track has a raw and unpolished quality to it that seems to communicate Oberst’s current sentiments. He is tired of being “Bright Eyes,” tired of being an indie fanboy, tired of being the next Bob Dylan. Oberst, it seems, is ready to retire his “Bright Eyes” persona and ready to move on down the next musical highway.

“I do my best to sleep through the caterwaul,” Oberst sings on “Firewall.” “Their classicists, the posturing avant-garde, I bought a grey macaw named him Jules Vern. He’ll probably outlive me he’s a bright bird. Keeps me company, I teach him new words I saw a hologram at the theme park. She looked as real as me through the white fog, then she melted down to her ankles, turned into a million-watt candle … Bust through the Firewall into heaven.”

On the second track, “Shell Games,” Oberst begins to slip back into a more familiar sound, but as the song picks up, it is imbued with synth-backing and guitar riffs that almost sound as if they are from an 80s hit band. As in many of the other tracks, Oberst seems to be moving away from his trademark emo/indie sound.

“If I could change my mind, change the paradigm, prepare myself for another life, forgive myself for the many times I was cruel to something helpless and weak,” Oberst sings on “Shell Games.”  “But here it comes, that heavy love, I’m never gonna move it alone. Here it comes, that heavy love.”

Throughout his career, Oberst has incorporated a weird and wonderful vision of America into his albums. They are alive with the same sentiment as Jack Kerouac’s books, roaming the backroads and dusty towns, and soaking in a unique sense of “Americana.” Though it is precisely this role that Oberst is rejecting, though his public role is getting uncomfortable, too small, too restrictive, though he is ready to leave it all behind on the side of a lone highway, his persona seems to be inescapable.

“People’s Key, ringing through arena seats,” Oberst sings on “A Machine Spiritual.” “The black machine played it all from memory. A fever dream well, I’ll come back eventually to wade into the water another and another. We go form some kind of code. The bodies float and form some kind of code, the bodies float … A catatonic plateau, a backwards black-faced minstrel show, so just let me go.”

Today’s release of “The People’s Key” might mark the official end of Bright Eyes, but Oberst is far from done with making music. The years since “Cassadega” saw him experimenting with different formats, releasing two solo albums and recording with Monsters of Folk. Whatever his next musical endeavor, we can be sure that it will fascinate, imbued with that unique sound that can only be Conor Oberst traveling America’s byways.

Rating: 5/5 Stars