Album Review: Bright Eyes – The People’s Key

By on Tuesday, 22nd February 2011 at 12:00 pm

For a band that has been making music for the past 16 years, keeping the sound fresh can be a real challenge. Bright Eyes are one of indie music’s success stories, after finding fame on a small-time label and the internet, they’re now one of the biggest names in American indie rock. With their tried and tested lo-fi approach, coupled with Conor Oberst’s stirring lyrics, ‘The People’s Key’ is a welcome addition to Bright Eyes’ catalogue.

‘The People’s Key’ is the trio’s seventh album and their first studio recording in 4 years. Starting with the 7-minute epic ‘Firewall’, the track is more of a message than a song. It fades in with a sound clip which talks about solving mankind’s problems, the fact that space is expanding and religion. It’s oddly poignant and equally as eerie. Eventually the military-like drums kick in along with Oberst’s fantastic words and guitar, leading to a huge atmospheric sound which acts as a catalyst for the rest of the LP.

The album definitely has its fair share of potential singles. Tracks such as ‘Shell Games’ (watch its promo video here), ‘Jejune Stars’ and ‘Haile Selassie’. ‘Jejune Stars’ seems to have been influenced by the mid-Noughties wave of UK indie bands whose name began with ‘The’. It’s not the strongest song on the record but is catchy and radio-friendly, it also features the lyric, “we’re all jejune stars”, which will undoubtedly be all over Tumblr soon, most likely with a stock photo of the night sky.

Throughout ‘The People’s Key’, Bright Eyes manage to cover a number of different styles and genres with the utmost accuracy. Oberst can transform and alter his voice with such precision at times, it’s hard to believe it’s the same person. However, this is helped by the amount of effects used on his voice. During ‘Haile Selassie’ and ‘A Machine Spiritual (In The People’s Key)’, Oberst’s vocals have been put through an echo effect so much it sounds like he recorded it in an empty cave. It’s this loneliness in his vocals which is at contrast to the togetherness Bright Eyes usually bring to their fans.

Not all tracks, however, cause an emotional response. ‘Triple Spiral’ is one of the weakest songs Bright Eyes have released in recent years. It’s quite upbeat and has a poppy tinge, but it’s just not particularly interesting compared to the rest of the album. The majority of the LP has the same pop music ethos throughout, but one or two songs stray away from this formula. ‘Ladder Song’ is a prime example of Bright Eyes’ talents at writing emotional lyrics and music. Its slow, majestic piano playing is a much welcomed addition to an album which focuses on the use of a synth for the majority.

‘The People’s Key’ set out and completed exactly what it wanted to. Mixing a number of styles together through a journey of indie rock fused with intelligent and imaginative lyrics, the album is one of the best Bright Eyes releases since 2005’s ‘I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning’. Despite one or two tracks not necessarily warranting your 100% of your attention, there are more than enough great songs which are as interesting as they are fun. Some of which are just dying to be played live and loved by all of Oberst and co.’s fans.


‘The People’s Key’ by Bright Eyes is available now.

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