Released 15th February 2011 by Saddle Creek Records
Chart Performance: A success on both sides of the Atlantic The People’s Key hit no.46 in the UK and peaked at no.13 in the US.
What The Critics Said: “No amount of pseudo-cosmic filibustering can distract from the fact that these are some of Oberst’s most compelling tracks in years.” Paste Magazine
I had mixed feelings in the lead up to the release of The People’s Key, this year’s effort from Bright Eyes. On the one hand, I was jubilant at the idea of what would be their first full-length record since 2007’s Cassadaga. On the other, I had been made aware that this would likely be their last release as a band; knowledge that had left me feeling rather melancholy. Therefore as I sat waiting for my download of the album to finish on the day of release (under assurance that my special edition box-set was in the post) I felt a twinge of sadness mixed in with my excitement. That sadness disappeared, however, when the album started playing and I was given the opportunity to feast upon ten new Bright Eyes songs.
Bookended with monologues spoken by Danny Brewer (of Refried Ice Cream), the record remains compelling for its entirety, with vocalist Conor Oberst frequently taking on philosophical (perhaps even science-fictional) topics with his lyrics. Musically, it leaps away from the country-tinged tones of Cassadaga and Oberst’s recent work with the Mystic Valley Band, leaning towards something more electronic and rock-based. Up-tempo songs, such as the rhythmic Jejune Stars, sit comfortably alongside slower and lyrically darker offerings such as The Ladder Song and the entrancing Approximate Sunlight, maintaining good balance throughout the album. Final track, One For You, One For Me (which wouldn’t be out of place on the bands 2005 release Digital Ash in A Digital Urn), is an album highlight and has, perhaps unsurprisingly, become an anthemic set-closer in live outings.
The refreshing change in direction and the general high quality of songs had made me feel even more disappointed that this would be their final album. However, more recently Oberst has implied that this might not be the end of Bright Eyes after all, which suggests there could be more musical output from the band in the future. If they can produce another record as good as The People’s Key then I sincerely hope there is. Hannah Watts