By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Adulthood is tough on boy geniuses. Really: How does it feel to have peaked at 22?
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This is not to suggest that Conor Oberst's some hack on the backside of his career. Bright Eyes is simply an example of indie cred's Newtonian aspect (what goes up must come down), which is more the responsibility of overheated hype than Oberst's own deficiencies. He still releases good, generally thoughtful music while splitting time between Bright Eyes and a band performing under his own moniker.
But it's hard to dispute that his best release was either 2000's Fever and Mirrors or its ambitious follow-up 2002's Lifted ... featuring an indulgent rush of words and emotions conveyed with achy vocal affectation over careening Americana. The best collected tracks of the four Bright Eyes albums that followed couldn't compete with those discs. While 2007's rootsy Casadega hinted at a return to form, pedestrian moments greatly outnumbered transcendent ones. The two "solo" albums of '08 and '09 were middling, intermittently rocking efforts and hardly revelations.
His latest, February's The People's Key, is even more disappointing, with '80s analog synths, bits of spacey texture and insistent pop hooks that never coalesce into great songs. Once a potential superstar, Oberst now looks more like a solid, occasionally spectacular player with a predictable set of talents. Here's hoping he turns it around.