If I had to choose my least favourite Bright Eyes album it would be Digital Ash In A Digital Urn because, admittedly, I’m a total sucker for the folky and alt-country-ish sound that dominates Lifted and I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning. So when I first read that Conor Oberst was getting the old gang back together for the first time since 2007’s Cassadaga to record an album that was going to experiment with electronic sounds and – in his own words – aim for something more “contemporary or modern”, I didn’t know what to expect. For people wanting to hear Fevers And Mirrors part II this album may not be for you, however I totally dig it.
The People’s Key starts in a much familiar fashion, a seemingly surreal and odd monologue delivered over a slowly building drone; this has long become the standard for the opening track on any Bright Eyes album. Once Oberst’s distinctive voice and lyrics kick-in, it’s clear you’re listening to another classic Bright Eyes album. The high quality of the writing continues thought-out The People’s Key’s entirety and, as usual, is the highlight of album. Although this is definitely not a folk or country album, Conor’s voice maintains the twang which is prominent on his recent releases with the Mystic Valley Band, third track ‘Jejune Stars’ is possibly the best example of this.
‘Haile Selassie’ is a clear stand out track, with a strong pulsing rhythm and subtle synth work, it helps to tie the album together at the midway point. Oberst draws on images of religion, music, evil and hope, all in an almost stream-of-consciousness style that feels as much like an “end is nigh” style warning as it does an ‘indietronic-rock’n’roll’ song.
The rocking ‘Triple Spiral’ is another great song, which features some brilliant female backing vocals and quality drumming. Generally I find that the faster and more band orientated tracks on this album outshine the slower ballads. ‘Shell Games’, ‘Beginner’s Mind’ and ‘One For You, One For Me’ are all impressive and extremely listenable songs. However it’s no wonder that this album is of such high quality when considering the cast of musicians that make cameos: Andy LeMaster of Now It’s Overhead, Matt Maginn of Cursive, Clark Baechle of The Faint and more all contribute to The People’s Key.
Although this is not my favourite Bright Eyes album, it is definitely a damn good one, with a number of songs that a lot of other artists would kill to be able to write.