The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Reviews

Conor Oberst
Conor Oberst Jeremy Allen , August 8th, 2008 18:14

Conor Oberst - Conor Oberst

Paranoia is rotting the music industry's brain, and it's getting harder get access to the music you presumably want to know about. Take this Conor Oberst album I've recently been sent. It's circular, it's shiny, it looks just like a CD and carries a warning that should anyone as much as overhear its tiny din through my headphones whilst chest pressing at the gym, then two Robo-Terminators with nipples like fighter pilot's thumbs will step forward into the future and rape my children and my children's children, and any other children playing in the vicinity. This would terrify me of course, but the bloody thing doesn't actually play. Not in my computer, not on my stereo, not in my toaster, not in my personal stereo. In fact, it's so wired with techie-pesticides that it kills my discman. Presumably I forgot to iron it first. Ironically, this is the sort of half-arsed logic that drives music fans to take matters into their own hands and download the bloody thing illegally off the net.

And you do have to question what all the secrecy is about? Has Conor Oberst suddenly forged a new brave direction of MC-ing strictly in iambic pentameter over disco drone? Of course he hasn't. To all intents and purposes, this is a Bright Eyes album - which to all intents and purposes is Conor Oberst, without the Technicolor production of Mike Mogis. Expect the same nifty lyrical prowess, the same tremulous, mildly disaffected vocal style, the same slightly maddening “I hate my mom, and it's not my fault I was born this beautiful” demeanour that has been prevalent in every Bright Eyes outing to date. It's essentially a lo-fi-ish version of the very same thing you'll already be familiar with, with a couple of sketches tacked on and a tiny bit more fucking about.

The songs are good, but it doesn't feel as though anything has been developed enough to label it great. On 'Cape Canaveral', he is in full-on Oberstian mode - a term that will one day come to mean pouring forth lyrics that fit beautifully together but aren't actually nearly as profound as the delivery suggests. In many instances they actually make no sense at all: “And watch the migrant smoke, and the old orange grove, and the red rocket blaze over Cape Canaveral. You've been a father to me, in 1960's speak, give me comatose joy like we're on TV”. At least I think that's what he's singing. Whatever, it's pretty, and there's a reason they call it poetic licence.

When Conor comes with a clear direction he fares better. 'I Don't Want TO Die (in the Hospital')' blurs the boundaries between comedy and tragedy deliciously, executed as it is over a swaggering Good Old Boys country ho-down. 'Help me get my boots back on,' he sings deliriously, with female accompaniment; presumably escaping the sterility of a ward to perish in the back of somebody's car.

'Conor Oberst' is a good album, but there's nothing on it that challenges the focused attention to detail and robust might of 2007's 'Cassadaga', and as such the drop off in quality seems more marked. To take a liberty with Art Garfunkel (now there's a thought), 'How can the light that burned so brightly / Suddenly burn so pale?'

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.