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“The key to Oberst’s continued success”
Like Bright Eyes’ previous album, the great Cassadaga, The People’s Key opens with a long monologue. This time, the monologue from Denny Brewer of the band Refried Ice Cream frames the album’s discussion of the nature of time and the progress of humankind. Oberst’s big songwriting achievement is that he succeeds at relating these ideas in a personal and affecting way. He moves from Hitler and Eva Braun to ancient history to Haile Selassie to his own personal history in a constant barrage of scenes that shift through various eras. With all the references, Oberst invites the kind of lyrical analysis usually reserved for Bob Dylan albums. Like Dylan’s best, The People’s Key demands your attention.
Musically, The People’s Key is stripped down compared to Cassadaga’s expanded palate. Moving away from the guests on that album, Bright Eyes the band is the real star here, mostly sticking to a basic rock combo line-up with a lot of synthesizers. The synths, guitar arpeggios and arrangements recall the “college rock” of the ’80s, another period obsessed with science and progress. If this is a conscious allusion, it is close to perfect, like the tone painting of classical music.
The People’s Key works because it humanizes weighty topics without going overboard like Yes, ELO or other sci-fi loving bands of the ’70s. The music is dramatic, but never theatrical. It is this low-key approach that allows Bright Eyes to sing about far-out scientific theories and makes you want to listen to the album again, huddled over the lyrics – trying to figure it all out. (Saddle Creek)
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