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Review: Bright Eyes, ‘The People’s Key’

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: February 15, 2011
Label: Saddle Creek

As “Jejune Stars” builds into a sweeping, Evita-worthy address to the masses, it seems clear that Conor Oberst wishes to bid Bright Eyes farewell. “So it starts again / At our childhood’s end / I’ll die young at heart,” croons Omaha’s moody prodigal son over sunny folk-rock strumming.

And yet, although Oberst once described this seventh record as his most famous project’s last, he’s since quieted such hints of finality. Perhaps, looking back on his maturation from a trembling lo-fi wisp of a boy (1998 debut A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997) to sure-footed Americana frontman (2007’s Cassadaga), Oberst realized that Bright Eyes was an adult ensemble worth holding on to.

The People’s Key is his most straightforward rock offering yet, with Oberst’s sullenness tamped down by bracing guitars and crisp keyboards. It’s got a handful of the topical barbs and overwrought couplets for which he’s been roundly criticized (“One for the Führer / One for his child bride / One for the wedding / One for the suicide” on “One for You, One for Me”); but they’re the exception here. He’s never been as open-minded and psychedelic (“Haile Selassie“) or displayed such even-keeled acceptance (“Shell Games“). The People’s Key proves Oberst has learned to balance a cutting perspective with a bleeding heart.