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Some random thoughts about the new Bright Eyes album

01/02/2011

Proper review later (maybe) but for now, some scattershot opinions.

Is this supposed to be the final Bright Eyes album then? Oberst mentioned a fair while ago that he’d record one more BE album and then call that moniker quits, presumably focusing on his alt-country adventures or something. If that’s still the case, it’s definitely not audible on The People’s Key. There is no particular sense of finality to it, no tearful goodbyes – the closest we get are the self-referential asides of “Shell Games” that act as a reminder of past times. Generally though, The People’s Key sounds like another new album by a band that’s not yet done. In fact, it’s even introducing a bit of a new sound to the mix. While the electronic flourishes are a reminder of the vastly underrated Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, the overall sound of The People’s Key is much more upbeat and played by a band than the claustrophobic synthesizers of Digital Ash. It’s comfortably Bright Eyes but nothing like their past works. It doesn’t sound like a planned finale.

Whatever the case, it’s a good album. I’m not entirely convinced by it. It seems to have been made with a particular sonical concept in mind but it doesn’t really follow it through, there’s a few moments I’m not too sure of and, most damningly perhaps, it hasn’t really revealed to contain any of those classic songs of sheer brilliance. The closest the album gets is the double upbeat pop hitter combo “Shell Games” / “Jejune Stars”, the former probably the most pop moment of the BE catalogue and the latter somehow mixing blastbeat sections into a cheery, hook-filled rocker. For the rest of the songs, it seems The People’s Key is an album of moments and not songs: several tunes carry out something magical and special that does not follow through the whole 3-6 minutes they frolic about: the upbeat swirl of the closer and the electro folk of the title track have a fantastic sound and atmosphere but stand a bit paler songcraft-wise, “Approximate Sunlight” turns into a fantastic song about halfway through but takes a halfway to get there, etc. A lot of good songs with a lot of good things but which only hint at greatness teasingly.

But it’s still a good album. I may have just given it a minor slagging-off for the whole of the last paragraph but the overall reaction is a thumbs-up. I’m enjoying it. It’s great to have Bright Eyes back, etc. But maybe I was just expecting a bit more after a four year absence. The People’s Key isn’t really a comeback album – it’s simply another good notch in the BE catalogue. Time will tell if it turns out to be a grower (I’ve only had a few days of active listening behind me at all, that’s no time to judge an album).


Shell Games

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