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Issue #35 - Winter 2011 - Death Cab for CutieBright Eyes

The People’s Key

Saddle Creek

Feb 21, 2011 Issue #35 - Winter 2011 - Death Cab for Cutie Bookmark and Share

The one defining characteristic of Conor Oberst’s prolific career has been confidence. Since releasing his first solo recordings at a precocious 18, Oberst’s vision has never wavered. He has altered his route, moving from his early electronic recordings to acidic folk to country-tinged and back again, but he has done so with a sure hand. Even when he released the wildly divergent Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning on the same day in early 2005, each possessed such clear vision that neither seemed anything but focused. The People’s Key, his latest album, and first with Bright Eyes since 2007’s Cassadega, feels blurry and scattered.

The opening track, “Firewall,” a story of loneliness and disconnectedness, including a pet bird and wandering through an amusement park, starts things off in a dark direction, but then the first single “Shell Games” loses steam. It’s not a bad song, but it simply doesn’t contain the depths of Oberst’s usual songwriting. The lyrics (“Here it comes/That heavy love/I’m never going to move it alone”) fall a little flat, and the song’s ’80s flair feels out of place, especially when followed by the harder-rocking “Jejune Stars.” “Approximate Sunlight” never gets off the ground. “Haile Selassie” and “A Machine Spiritual (In the People’s Key)” both sound like expected Bright Eyes fare.

It’s too much to accuse Oberst of cruising on autopilot, but because The People’s Key never gels or hits the high points found on nearly everything else he’s touched, from full-lengths to EPs, it feels as though—for the first time—he’s a bit lost. The musicianship is outstanding, as one would expect, and Mike Mogis’ production is, as usual, flawless, but the songs and direction simply aren’t there.

Rumor has it this is the final album from Oberst under the Bright Eyes moniker, which didn’t seem to make sense at the time when it was announced, but makes more sense in light of The People’s Key. It’s kind of like a boxer who hesitates to take a fight towards the end of his career, then steps into the ring, and it immediately becomes apparent why he hesitated. Of course Oberst still has many fights left in him, but perhaps this one was lost before it began. (

Author rating: 5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10


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February 23rd 2011

I don’t know how much Bright Eyes the reader of this article has listened to, but he’s clearly mistaken on the quality of this album. This album has all the elements that make Bright Eyes’ earlier work great, but this album shows more focus and thought than any of the others.  While perhaps not quite as catchy as “I’m Wide Awake its Morning,” this album shows much more variety in moods and emotions.  The lyrics to this album cover deeper concepts and the Shamanic interludes are thought provoking and pretty awesome in my opinion.  Approximated Sunlight is very different from any of Bright Eyes’ previous work, and putting it on the album next to the more upbeat Haille Selassie shows the vast musical ground Bright Eyes can cover, while still flowing flawlessly. I think this is by far their best overall album.  There are some songs off the older albums that are admittedly better than any of the songs on this album, but I feel like this is really their only album where every song feels right and doesn’t get too stuck on a single mood. I feel like I’m Wide Awake tends to drag after the first half of the album or so, as all the emotions in the album have already been conveyed, whereas The People’s Key is interesting start to finish. I rate this one 9/10.

March 9th 2012

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