Album Review
Bright Eyes - The People's Key Album Cover

Bright Eyes - The People's Key

Reviewed by
Bright Eyes - The People's Key
Record Label: Saddle Creek
Release Date: February 15, 2011
This review was written by an AP.net staff member.
Not many bands evolve like Bright Eyes. Everyone knows that Conor Oberst is at least somewhat crazy - he's from Omaha, somewhere in the middle of America - and I get the impression that living there would drive anybody slightly off their rocker. If you don't think he's crazy, then we can at least agree that he does, for the most part, whatever the hell he wants when he writes music. Returning with his most famed project, Oberst recently presented us with Bright Eyes' eighth studio album, The People's Key. To describe the record in one line, it is a meeting place for his old influences and his new ones.

There's the powerful indie rock that made Bright Eyes a staple in the "emo" scene, there's a scoop of the grassroots style that Oberst acquired on his solo records, there's even a handful of electronics and orchestration thrown in for ambience that might have come from a Bright Eyes album that I never paid enough attention to. Then there's that punk tinge that Oberst always has about him...not in the sense that he writes punk music, just in the sense that, like was said before, he just does whatever he wants. And that always comes across as at least a little punk.

One of the examples of Oberst doing whatever he wants is him giving a chunk of his album - well, a few minutes anyway - to Randy Brewer, who is apparently a Texas native that Oberst met while on the road. Brewer preaches some ridiculous stuff that is half over my head and half insane. The ramblings are great parts of the record, though, as they lead into songs or end songs extremely well. After over two minutes of Brewer telling you something about Albert Einstein, the Garden of Eden and eight universes combining to make a super-universe, things finally get started with "Firewall." It's a pounding yet rhythmic track, with equal parts aggression and calmness, and sets the tone nicely for the record.

"Jejune Stars" is a standout, with a blistering intro that leads into some of the catchier portions of The People's Key. Then we're led into songs like "Approximate Sunlight" and "Haile Selassie," which make it obvious that this record was meant to be listened to and enjoyed, but not completely and fully understood. There are definitely notions to Zion and various religions, but I had to read through the lyric book to pick those up. Even though Oberst's lyrics and general message might go over your head in the end, these two tracks are both stunningly beautiful to listen to.

"A Machine Spiritual (In the People's Key)" is the best song on the album, with a constant acoustic strumming in the background that paces Oberst's best vocal performance of the record. Getting toward the end of the record, "Ladder Song" is a slow, piano-led ballad that reminds you of the power of Oberst's songwriting, as if you needed a reminder after the first eight tracks. Closer "One For You, One For Me" is rounded out by some more sermon-giving by Brewer, an appropriate ending to the holistically cosmic record.

At the end of the day, I don't understand this album fully despite reading through the lyric book several times, multiple Google searches and more than one educated guess. Listeners probably won't get it all the way either, but that's probably what Oberst wants. Either way, it's a more than enjoyable listen. It's good to listen to a record like The People's Key, if for no other reason, just to appreciate a songwriter who knew exactly what he wanted to do and executed it perfectly.

Recommended If You LikeOld Bright Eyes albums, Conor Oberst's solo stuff.
Follow Me On TwitterI tweet a lot when I'm mad because I stink at NBA 2K11.
Bare Essentials1. Firewall
2. Shell Games
3. Jejune Stars
4. Approximated Sunlight
5. Haile Selassie
6. A Machine Spiritual (In the People’s Key)
7. Triple Spiral
8. Beginner’s Mind
9. Ladder Song
10. One for You, One for Me
Run Time: 47 minutes
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
AP.net Profile
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 43
02:17 AM on 02/28/11
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vivatoto56's Avatar
Awesome. Been waiting for this review.
02:21 AM on 02/28/11
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BalancingacT's Avatar
Not sure if I agree with, well, anything here, but at least it was enjoyably written.
02:38 AM on 02/28/11
speak but a whisper...
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funnydave's Avatar
It doesn't come anywhere near I'm Wide Awake... or Lifted... but I agree that it's plenty enjoyable, and I agree with your rating for the most part.
It's a solid album, there just aren't many things that really reach out and grab my attention.
02:44 AM on 02/28/11
I'm starting to decompose
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2LW's Avatar
aoty so far
03:14 AM on 02/28/11
Thomas Nassiff
retired staff member
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Thomas Nassiff's Avatar
Not sure if I agree with, well, anything here, but at least it was enjoyably written.
What's your view on the album? And thanks for saying that, because I always try to write my reviews in a fluid manner. I want people to get through the review easily even though they might not agree with my opinion.
04:43 AM on 02/28/11
Regular Member
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DriftingNAndOut's Avatar
Really enjoying this. Machine Spiritual is one of my least favorite songs, and I certainly wouldn't have given his vocals a 9, but good review nonetheless. Ladder Song is my fave, along with Triple Spiral and Shell Games.
06:49 AM on 02/28/11
Hey, are you a dreamer?
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DylanPPPP's Avatar
I've been putting off listening to this for quite some time after hearing mixed reviews of it. I think it's time to create my own opinion of it. I love everything Oberst has done so far so I shouldn't be disappointed.
06:52 AM on 02/28/11
don't ask
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No Avatar Selected
Loved this album. And I was never a fan of Bright Eyes.
07:08 AM on 02/28/11
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MyNameIsRoss's Avatar
like the album. although, I prefer the direction he was going with Cassadaga.
07:49 AM on 02/28/11
Yea, you were right about me
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trappedintime's Avatar
You wrote a great review but this album did nothing for me. Bright Eyes has always been a great band and there's definitely some "standout tracks" but this album was forgettable for me. Different strokes.
08:47 AM on 02/28/11
The Eventually Home
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Alex!'s Avatar
Yeah, while it's a good review and easy to read and get through I don't really agree. Still a good review. I'm pretty sure it's Danny Brewer, not Randy.
09:19 AM on 02/28/11
Up all night, and down all day
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thesollopsist's Avatar
Really loving this album and Bright Eyes. Helping me through some shitty times.
09:20 AM on 02/28/11
Registered User
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No Avatar Selected
Brilliant album by a brilliant songwriter.
09:29 AM on 02/28/11
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BalancingacT's Avatar
What's your view on the album? And thanks for saying that, because I always try to write my reviews in a fluid manner. I want people to get through the review easily even though they might not agree with my opinion.
I'd say my biggest difference is definitely "A Machine Spiritual." From a songwriting standpoint, I just don't think it's nearly as interesting as most of the other tracks. I don't think it's his strongest vocal song either, really; I think it's his most most reverbed. I think he pushes his voice in "Jejune Stars" more. Although, I will say the end of the "Machine Spiritual" chorus is one of the coolest parts of the album.

(And just to be a nitpicky dick, I would definitely give the production one of the highest scores. It sounds really awesome.)

PS - Those electronic and orchestration albums are Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and, to a lesser degree, Cassadaga ;)

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