I almost didn’t listen to the new (and supposedly final) Bright Eyes record, The People’s Key. Not because I got distracted by the new Radiohead album, but because the first track, “Firewall,” begins with a truly irritating “sermon” by Texas musician Denny Brewer about Eden and evil reptiles who try to mate with humans. (Favorite quote: “The women would die, the babies would abort.” Blurgh.) I’ve been told this is a bit of dramatic scene-staging, as Conor Oberst is known for — a necessary set-up for the sci-fi-tinged, apocalypse-minded lyrics to come. OK, fine. I was rewarded for getting past the opener with the extremely likable dance-pop of “Shell Games” and “Jejune Stars” (which ends up marred at the end by another inane voiceover). Thankfully, Oberst has outgrown his Americana phase. All the rootsiness of his Mystic Valley Band has been ironed out and replaced with jittery pop-rock energy. If only there was a way to sustain it. By the final track, Oberst sounds as overwrought and whiny (albeit lyrically clever) as he ever did.
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