Most people either love or hate Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst. Strangely, I've always fallen somewhere in the middle. His lyrics range from incisive and heartfelt to over-emotive and obnoxious, his tremulous vocals from expressive to grating. But the guy can write the hell out of a pop song, and while Bright Eyes' back catalog contains some stunning mediocrity, it also displays glimmers of brilliance.
Those glimmers are polished up to a pleasant luster on The People's Key. Oberst and crew have dialed back the country and folk influences that characterized previous albums, turning here to synthy, syrupy, thick, guitar-barbed melodies that are instantly catchy and lastingly effective.
The People's Key makes an immediate impression with its spooky Mulder-esque opening monologue espousing bizarre conspiracy theories. But it sets a reverberating tone for the album-proper, a collection of Oberst material at its most restrained. Oberst's heart has always been on his sleeve in his writing, but here it's obscured just enough to avoid being unsightly. For every clunky Nazi reference or lame couplet there's a brace of searingly effective metaphors or one-liners.
Bright Eyes fans won't need convincing. But for the haters, this is the first album that merits serious reconsideration.