Saddle Creek, 2010
By Kyle Allen
What is the significance of a Bright Eyes album in 2011? Conor Oberst seems to be asking himself the same question. When the singer/songwriter and company revealed a great deal of talent on Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground nine years ago, he left fans and critics alike wondering where he would take the project. Several albums, a number of side projects and many tours later, The People’s Key reminds one of the band’s earlier, more scattered albums, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
From the slow build of the opener “Firewall,” with lyrics like “Walking through the land of tomorrow/Martian trinkets, plastic Apollos/In the sunshine try to act normal,” to the Rastafarian ranting of “Haile Selassie,” which sings, “We are the same brother/Hitchhiking back to Zion,” to the flowing final half, the album is uneven but inspiring at its best moments. Certain songs give you the impression that Bright Eyes could have, collectively, tried harder. However, perfection is not the purpose here—free exploration is. Likely fueled by marijuana and Bob Marley philosophy, Oberst enters a new realm of his notoriously polluted psyche.
With The People’s Key, Bright Eyes prove that innovation among the group hasn’t been lost. In addition, lyrical expression is at a peak. Still, the album lacks the overall finesse to truly captivate the listener, and at only 10 tracks, the length is a bit dissatisfying. But is the album entertaining? Certainly.