Hailed by press and fans alike as this generation's answer to Bob Dylan when he arrived on the scene fifteen years ago, the prodigious Conor Oberst has a hell of a lot to live up to, both as a solo artist and as the enigmatic front man of his band Bright Eyes. His fan base are loyal to the point of evangelism, so it is almost guaranteed that they will be hailing The People's Key, Bright Eyes' rumoured last album, as a work of unadulterated genius, but on first listen it's not as black and white as all that.

Elaborating on the mysticism first explored on his 2007 album Cassadaga, The People's Key is a trippy pop record. It is topped and tailed with the quasi-religious ramblings of obscure Texas musician and sermoniser Randy Brewer, who's words are more suited to the followers of lizard lover David Icke than anyone with a grain of sanity, and Oberst sets about creating a body of work appropriate to such spiritual bookending. His lyrics speak of the end of days, black fire and time machines, whilst musically it retains the lightness of touch and tripping step that is so gratifying in his music, yet the two together seem to add up to less than a whole. There appears to be a gaping chasm between the spiritual journey he is attempting to convey through his lyrical imagery and the sweet, yet strangely detached, indie pop of his music. Having previously possessed the ability to make grown men cry with just one note, The People's Key seems to lack an emotional depth so beloved by his fans.

The People's Key is essentially a standard Bright Eyes record in the Cassadaga mould with some glimpses of genius, such as the beautifully haunting piano ballad 'Ladder Song', the uplifting jauntiness of lead single 'Shell Games' for the radio friendly crowd, and the brilliantly languid 'Approximate Sunlight' for the die hard fans, but there is an overwhelming sense that what Oberst has gained in lyrical allegory, he has lost in musical depth. With his fans expecting this record to be the musical equivalent of the second coming, this reviewer included, there is an undeniable sense of disappointment on first listen. It is, by all accounts, a great record and probably one of the tautest of his albums, but as is the custom with much of Bright Eyes' work it takes a few listens for it to click into place and if you are willing to put the time in you will be greatly rewarded.

Whilst Oberst is busy spinning off into the great unknown in search of spiritual enlightenment, this listener was left feeling a little empty inside.

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