The Story is in the Soil Keep Your Ear to the Ground

Bright Eyes
Saddle Creek Records
August 12, 2002

Conor Oberst, how you’ve changed.

The 22 year old Nebraska native who began his career singing The sound of the hopeless kids as they scream from the basements of the houses of their parents has been flailing Emo since the early 1990s. But on his latest double album with the band Bright Eyes, Oberst decries his artful depression as as a rock star pose. He swears a new sincerity, and portrays for the first time an oscillation of tone and mood: bitterness, fury, prophecy, resignation, fatalism, introspection, love, and even joy, albiet the manic, universal, unreasonable kind. There is no trace of his previous iconoclasm, instead he recommends surrender: You can struggle in the water, be too stubborn to die / Or you can just give in, and be LIFTED to the SKY. The songwriter denounces his past image as a martyred suburban teenager and deliberately fades into the camaraderie of his friends and band mates, calling upon them to reinforce the singer’s lyrical assault with boisterous choruses, full orchestration, and military-style horn and percussion sections.

Nobody screams like Oberst does. When during the song “Let’s Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and To Be Loved)” he berates himself and his consumerist countrymen as red blooded, white skinned, oh and the blues / Oh and the blues, I GOT THE BLUES, its impossible for the listener to remain unswayed by the unfashionable anti-patriotism. On the other hand, the bittersweet “Bowl of Oranges” uses delicate piano, dulcimer and bells to create an unexpected robustness, evocative, of all things, of Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning”, and the retro crooning swell of “False Advertising” is daring and convincing. “From a Balance Beam”, is inadvertently poetic, breathtaking in its cynicism and simultaneous impossible hope. In an effortless turn of phrase, the Oberst restates the Guy Debordian definition of the Spectacle, coming to the miracle-as-parasitic-media-creation insight on its own instead of merely alluding to that author’s writings. A pedal steel drives the stylized country song “Make War”, and “Waste of Paint” remains a solo folk monologue. The album’s best track is its most crushing, the cruel and coldly familiar narrative of “Lover I Don’t Have to Love”.

Try as it does to embrace the ordinary, there is nothing mediocre about Lifted; Oberst’s singing voice remains affecting, his screams overpowering, and his lyrics fluid and chillingly sharp at their best. However, this album presents quite a new sound to an audience that may have been expecting more of the same old wintry dark-corner loneliness. Bright Eyes’ past albums A Collection of Songs: Recorded 1995-1997, Letting Off the Happiness, and Fevers & Mirrors credited one musician, six musicians, and eight musicians, respectively. Lifted credits 22 musicians, plus a five-member drum corps, a seven-member choir, a four-member "country choir", and a “drunk choir” consisting of everyone that was drinking at Duffy’s and O’Rourke’s that night. Lifted is without a doubt Bright Eyes’ most textured album, mature and subjective where all of the previous were deliberately adolescent. Instead of an unequivocal smug misery, Oberst uses new and diverse styles to document the contradictions of his life, bemoaning his output as “trite and cheap” while resigning himself to continue compulsively singing, ultimately, because he cannot stop.

  1. The Big Picture
  2. Method Acting
  3. False Advertizing
  4. You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will. You?
  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)