BRIGHT EYES: LIFTED OR THE STORY IS IN THE SOIL, KEEP YOUR EAR TO THE GROUND (2002)
1) Big Picture; 2) Method Acting; 3) False Advertising; 4) You Will. You? Will. You? Will; 5) Lover I Don't Have To Love; 6) Bowl Of Oranges; 7) Don't Know When But A Day Is Gonna Come; 8) Nothing Gets Crossed Out; 9) Make War; 10) Waste Of Paint; 11) From A Balance Beam; 12) Laura Laurent; 13) Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love And To Be Loved).
«Why is he suffering so much?» my wife asked me during the last minutes of ʽWaste Of Paintʼ, which I, for some mysterious reasons, was listening to without the headphones. «Did his girlfriend die or anything?» That was the moment when I understood that that was it, that the Bright Eyes were finished for me — because this was the first time ever that I was asked that question. Syd Barrett, Neil Young, Robert Smith, Peter Gabriel, and even Badly Drawn Boy — all of them survived in the end, but the fate of Conor Oberst was sealed, once and for all. It sort of snapped me out of that oozy, dreamy state where I was... well, not exactly ready to fall under this guy's charm, but at least sort of accept his whinery as a given fact of life. Like, some people yell and other people whine, and then there should be tolerance and all.
But no, really. On this album, which could have easily been called Lifted, but one-word album titles are for laconic sissies, Conor puts the wheel in reverse and, for the most part, dispenses with the intricate arrangements of Fevers And Mirrors, with just a few notable exceptions that will be noted later. On such minimalistic, but bleeding long acoustic rants as ʽBig Pictureʼ and ʽWaste Of Paintʼ, he seems to be trying to earn his «modern day Dylan» reputation, except that Dylan always took better care of his guitar accompaniment and never ripped as many shirts along the way. At the very least, ʽBig Pictureʼ justifies its title by no longer being exclusively tied to some sort of «woman trouble» — it's a well-made declaration of personal and artistic freedom, but really, Conor, there is no need to impersonate a tortured, mutilated revolutionary being led to the guillotine. You're only 22 years old, everything will work out. Maybe you ought to move to North Korea for a couple of years, it'll do you good.
When the «songs» reluctantly agree to be more than just a couple of acoustic chords, they still tend to just roll along doing nothing, like the «grand» ten-minute conclusion of ʽLet's Not Shit Ourselvesʼ. Maybe it is Oberst's ʽDesolation Rowʼ, but even ʽDesolation Rowʼ had a nifty acoustic riff running through it; here, the «music»'s only purpose is to provide Oberst's grand anti-establishment rant with a toe-tapping beat. Sincerity? Who gives a damn about sincerity when nothing about your sincerity makes it any more attractive than anyone else's sincerity? Or was there no one else in 2002 brave enough to let The Truth out, other than Conor Oberst? The most annoying thing about these «soulful» deliveries is that they are delivered as if the man was a fuckin' Cassandra — completely alone in a world of deaf and dumb people. (Well, I don't know, maybe in Omaha... but nah, not really).
The only substantial musical idea on the entire album may be found on ʽDon't Know Whenʼ, where most of the verses are sung to a simple folk-dirge melody with a simple, but effective chord progression. In a way, it almost works like a mantra, and if only Oberst did not eventually succumb to the temptation of ripping one more shirt and self-exploding in a fit of drunken ire, it could almost become seductive — but this guy is under a firm conviction that «sincerity» and «perfectionism» are mortal enemies, and in their endless struggle he knows only too well whose side he will take.
Of course, there are still quite a few numbers featuring complex arrangements — no surprise here, since a mind-boggling twenty-five musicians altogether were involved in the making of the album, making it a serious contender for «hugest waste of talent ever». Well, not all of these musicians are equally talented, I guess, but on such tracks as ʽLover I Don't Have To Loveʼ or ʽFrom A Balance Beamʼ the keyboards and strings work very well, as before, trying to dress the man's non-descript compositions in shiny technicolor robes. On others, like ʽMake Warʼ, they are going for a «lo-fi country» approach, with slide guitars and harmonicas at the ready. To no avail.
Not that you should take my opinion: Rolling Stone itself rated Lifted as the fourth greatest album of 2002, and even The Dean himself, Mr. Robert "I Dare You To Fill In The Blanks In My Opinions, Punk" Christgau invited us all to "feel or indulge his suffering youth" and be awarded with awe. Maybe for all these guys, the weaving techniques of Mr. Oberst really work. Or maybe they were simply so hungry for «genuine rough-cut emotion» after all those years of post-modern cynicism that even Conor Oberst would do. It might not be a coincidence, really, that the Bright Eyes' ratings seriously plummeted with the emergence of Arcade Fire — as far as I'm concerned, when you got Win Butler, the need to have Conor Oberst dissipates in a flash. Thumbs down, anyway: the few decent arrangements that we have here cannot compensate for at least a half hour's worth of total abomination.
Check "Lifted" (MP3) on Amazon