Bright Eyes: The People’s Key

February 24, 2011

Bright Eyes: The People's Key Album Cover

Artist: Bright Eyes
Album: The People’s Key
Label: Saddle Creek Records
Release Date: February 15, 2011


A flurry of ehh… let’s say stereotypical Bright Eyes fan events came together my sophomore year of high school (Fall 2004) that got me listening to Bright Eyes:

  • I was reading about bands on Weezer message boards and hearing about new bands
  • I was alphabetizing my fathers 1,000+ CD collection
  • My first GF ever had dumped me and I was a bit in the pits about it
  • We listened to Dashboard Confessional a lot, and I didn’t want to listen to them any more
  • Here’s how these things come together: So, I was reading a thread on Dashboard Confessional, and someone was like “You guys should check out Bright Eyes” and everyone was like “That country emo shit?” “What’s country emo music even sound like?” and “I heard he cries on stage at his shows.” (I don’t know if anyone actually said these things, but I know I have read them somewhere at some time.). I was trying to find something else to listen to, and I remembered that I thought I had seen a Bright Eyes CD amongst my father’s collection. I found it and set it aside.

    Later, before I listened to it, I asked my dad “So, what do you know about Bright Eyes?” and he said he didn’t much care for it, but the CD came highly recommended to him. So I threw it on and it punched me write in my sad high school face. I don’t know if I liked it right away or if it took a listen or two, but the CD became the only thing I listened to and today I would say it is one of my top 5 favorite CDs of all time.

    After that, I delved into all of his other work and became a fan of all of it. I was a bit in shock that everything that the band (rather, Conor Oberst, under the name Bright Eyes) released from age 18 to the present (at that time) was fantastic. I quickly devoured the entire back catalogue. I devoured side projects like Desaparecidos. I embraced the whole Saddle Creek story and many of the acts associated with it. (Cursive, Rilo Kiley (at the time), Son Ambulance). I started splitting my message board time between weezer and inastorytold (the Bright Eyes fan board of the time). I made pilgrimages to Chicago, IL and Columbia, MO to see the band. (To this day, they have not been to St. Louis since I became a fan, though that is changing in a few months)

    Somewhere in there, “I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning” and “Digital Ash In A Digital Urn” came out, and I loved those too. Both of them. I stand by my appreciation of all of these Bright Eyes albums to this day…

    And then I stopped giving a shit. Cassadaga? Didn’t care. Conor Oberst solo albums? Didn’t really listen much. Monsters of Folk? I saw those dudes live in Chicago in 2005, long before they were the Monsters of Folk. Still couldn’t get into their album. Not sure why exactly, but I moved on. I was no longer interested in a band that basically directed my musical interest for most of high school. Here comes 2011.


    When I became a regular observer of the Bright Eyes fan boards, one of the big questions/rumors was always regarding Desaparecidos. When was Conor going to take a break from Bright Eyes to record a new album for the band? The answer, as history has shown thus far, has been “never.” There has only been one Desaparecidos album. The two tracks from The People’s Key that were released prior to the album (Shell Games and Haile Selassie) indicated to me that this album was probably going to be was the closest thing we were going to get. And for the first time in a few years, I was excited about a Conor Oberst album.

    The sound of The People’s Key is a smattering of the sonic best of Oberst’s career. There are loud rock tracks (Jejune Stars, Triple Spiral), pseudo lo-fi sadness (Approximate Sunlight, Ladder Song) some Digital-Ash like up-tempo fun (Beginner’s Mind, One For Me, One For You), and a folk (A Machine Spiritual). But it doesn’t sound like a few different albums. It sounds like one story with changing tempos and moods.

    Part of what ties this album together kind of sucks, and is also a Bright Eyes staple – narrations that may or may not have anything to do with the album. On most Bright Eyes albums, this can be rather endearing, and generally only happens on the first (and sometimes the last) track: Children reading stories to each other, a flight about a crashing plane, a couple who is lost on a way to a party in bad weather. This album has 3 or 4 instances of some dude talking about alien’s showing up and procreating with humans, the word pomegranate, Hitler, and the existence of human life. Knowing Oberst’s history with these type of narrations, this is tolerable but at no point for me has it crossed from weird to enhancing.

    Aside from the monologues, there isn’t a weak track on this album musically. It flows well, it sounds good and it makes for enjoyable repeat listens (I’ve probably done around 20 at this point). That being said, the lyrics aren’t what they once were. Lyrically, this is a personal album without the poignancy of June On The West Coast or Attempt to Tip the Scales. Maybe it works better on a spiritual searching level, but I’ve never really connected with Oberst on a spiritual level.

    Allegedly, this is the last Bright Eyes album. If so, I think it’s a good way for the band to go. It’s a representation of their sound, even if the lyrics aren’t as good as they could be. I still believe, as many did in 2005, that Conor Oberst has the potential to be a classic American songwriter with a long career. Once again, I’m rooting for him.


    7 out of 10 of Conor Oberst’s 18 year old tears

    Download: The People’s Key


    One Response to “Bright Eyes: The People’s Key”

    1. kelly Says:

      I think it must take a bad breakup to get anyone into bright eyes. Even now, after new albums come out and I listen to them a handful of times, I have a hard time going back unless I am in a bad mood of some sort.

      I really did enjoy this album. I didn’t know it was the last one!? And I think it’s funny how bright eyes got you into all of the rest of saddle creek, because it did the same for me, too. And I agree that Conor needs to make more Desaparecidos music. Sorry for all the sentences beginning with and.

      In short, totally agree. Except I liked Cassadaga.

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