Having earned acclaim and attention from smaller crowds, Bright Eyes burst onto the music scene in a big way with the simultaneous release of I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn in 2005; two albums of polar opposite making. The former was a continuation of Bright Eyes’ intimate folk rock persona, the latter an electro-pop experiment; both topping the Billboard charts in the month of their release and fueling a two-part tour.
Bright Eyes continued to release Cassadaga in March of 2007, which untied front man Conor Oberst from his previously simpler albums and led him into one that was string-laden, rounded, and extremely impressive. Cassadaga was orchestral and diverse, furthering Oberst’s reputation for songwriting, stoking more claims that he was Generation Y’s own Dylan, and pleasing both critics and fans.
With other projects in the air, like the increasingly popular Monsters of Folk, Oberst declared in 2009 that he wished to close the door on Bright Eyes and would record one final album with bandmates Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott. Oberst described wishing to move away from the traditional folk Americana that Bright Eyes was built upon and wanting to record a rock album that was, “contemporary” and “modern”.
It was unclear at the time what “contemporary” and “modern” meant. Perhaps a revival of the electrics and a sequel to Digital Ash? That turned out not to be the case. Whatever Oberst did intend, The People’s Key feels like he missed it.
The People’s Key comes off as something lost in limbo between the early, folksy Bright Eyes and the bar-pushing Digital Ash; lacking both the edginess of experimentation and Oberst’s intimate prose. The album’s opener, “Firewall”, is a high-strung and edgy tension-builder that fails to provide a satisfactory relief.
Elements of digitization appear throughout the album, like in the synth-heavy “Jejune Stars” or the electro-pop “Haile Selassie”, but with too much electronics and too little of Bright Eyes’ lyrical insight, everything just falls flat.
“Ladder Song” is the The People’s Key’s shining moment, featuring Oberst and an old piano grieving the loss of a close friend. This is the only track where raw emotion is grit through Oberst’s teeth as he sings from a damaged heart. Unfortunately it’s the exception to a hollow album.
Overall, The People’s Key feels like an album that was intended to conclude the Bright Eyes project, but made only for the sake of said conclusion. And it would be easier to be disappointed about that if it happened to be the last of Conor Oberst, but with other projects like Monsters of Folk going strong, there’s still plenty of time to make up for it.
Hampered by ill health, but never ones to retire shyly, The Who continue celebrating their 50th anniversary as they contemplate retirement.
Guitar Planet grades the creative comebacks from three iconic artists who are attempting to give 2015 a much-needed injection of impetus.
Guitar Planet takes on new albums by southern stars Blackberry Smoke, nu-metal icons Papa Roach and the legendary Venom.
The music industry’s glamorous state of the union address was delivered this weekend, but what did the Grammys have to say about guitar music?
Guitar Planet takes on eight of the most hotly hyped artists seeking to make 2015 their own.