Bright Eyes: The People's Key (Polydor)

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Bright Eyes: Ladder Song
Bright Eyes: The People's Key (Polydor)

Weird, but in a strangely compelling way  . . . like the best sci-fi.

Last time out Bright Eyes/Connor Oberst located his album in a Florida town Cassadaga which is apparently famous for the implosion of spiritualists there – and this one opens with a long and odd spoken word it about the spheres, Sumerian tablets and reptiles and Hitler and evolution and . . .

Delivered by someone who sounds like Tony Joe White – the slow drawl given the urgency of having to convey a great truth – it has all the persuasive force of a mad mystic who speaks in a park, and of course is totally risible.

But it sets up this album of spooky conspiracies, unusual apocalyptic imagery (who is this "arbiter"?), mysterious and impenetrable lyrics . . . If this is his final album, as he has said, he is bowing out on a strange note -- and perhaps off on an even stranger trip.

But what elevates this beyond psychobabble and doom-laden quasi-religious sci-fi is the force of the music, whether it be Jejeune Stars with its power pop structure, the slightly spooky atmosphere and woven-in disembodied voices on Approximate Sunlight ("I used to dream of time machines, now it's been said we're post-everything . . . there you go again on that circular trip, lick the solar plexus of some LA shaman") and the Beck-like Triple Spiral with its gritty approach and taut delivery.

Then there are two enticing jewels, the acoustic-then-electronica Beginner's Mind and the gorgeous Ladder Song which is a jaded piano ballad where he says he is tired of the traitors changing sides, "they were friends of mine".

Sometimes this appears to be about aliens and preparing for an impending invasion, at others he seems to be welcoming a messiah (on Haile Selassie where he sings "I've seen stranger things, I've seen that tree of smoke, I've seen stranger things happen before"). And at others there is a ringing tone of regret and sadness for what has come to be.

On Beginner's Mind he sings, "You tried your best on the Rorschach test, but there is just nothing to see".

Maybe that's what this album is like: could be a butterfly, could be a blood splatter, could be a spaceship to the furthest reaches of the cosmos . .  or just an ink blot.

Read as it as you will, it is dense.

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