Bright Eyes has completed their seventh and final studio recording. ‘The People’s Key’ was released on February 15, 2011—Conor Oberst’s, the band’s founder and lead vocalist, 31st birthday. Oberst had been steadily writing the album between the years 2008 and 2011 while working on other projects.
Oberst stated in a 2009 issue of Rolling Stone he wanted to “retire” from Bright Eyes, making ‘The People’s Key’ their final album. He goes on saying, “It does feel like it needs to stop at some point. I’d like to clean it up, lock the door, say goodbye.”
The album takes the listener to an alternate Bright Eyes universe, which is confusing to long-term fans that this would be a final expression from the trio—Oberst, Mike Mogis and Nathaniel Walcott. As their song Haile Selassie goes, “I’ve seen stranger things happen before.”
Oberst, the musical prodigy known to most as the King of Indie Rock, delves into the same ideas of unrequited, heavy love, redemption, and self-questioning that in the past he has been plagued with lyrically. Bright Eyes manages to breath new life into redundant concepts. In the song Jejuene Star, the title itself is an intriguing concept, Oberst’s early punk roots shine through. The listener is granted access into a path of doubt and troublesome realizations that most things change and preconceived notions aside, there is no use looking into the past to answer anything. Everything is cyclical and connected. We must evolve. “So it starts again, at our childhood’s end… if it’s true what we’re made of, why do I hide from the rain?”
One of the most powerful additions to the album, in true Bright Eyes fashion, is the spoken word of Denny Brewer -an El Paso musician, biker and New Age shaman – scattered periodically throughout the album. The first track, “Firewall”, has Brewer speaking of theories connecting the Sumerian tablets to that of the Old Testament, namely Genesis, with the beginning of time, space and the origins of Satan. Some may call it conspiracy theory, others may think of it as twisted logic but either way the contribution is truly thought harrowing and extremely enigmatic. The use of the spoken word thoroughly compliments the haunting aspects of many of the songs, which is clearly explored in the first track as well as “Approximate Sunlight”. Brewer’s voice serves as a prerequisite for a more daunting song, naturally.
Bright Eyes has always been an advocate against all things inhuman. This clearly comes through the written word, the spoken word and the melodies produced in the album. The song “One For You, One For Me” preaches about equality. It’s all tied together with a resounding drumbeat and thoughts of love.
“A Machine Spiritual (in the People’s Key)” is another highlight. The sound of it feels like a throwback to the 50s—at the end of doo-wop and the beginning of rock ’n roll. Obviously it is modernized.
‘The People’s Key’ consists of evocative electronics, moving beats and a huge turn against the typical earthy style of Bright Eyes. They took the opportunity to produce something musically heavier and they succeeded. With Oberst’s unique vocals and tremendous talent, he’ll never really sway from the indie scene that openly embraces him. But this last effort to completely reinvent the band will leave fans happy with the end result and sadly, forever wanting more.
If this is indeed the final album, thank you to the permanent members of Bright Eyes, Conor, Mike and Nate, for enlightening us.
Written by Natalie Kontur