Preliminary blog chatter about Bright Eyes’ seventh studio album hasn’t boded well for the man who made Omaha famous — like maybe “Four Winds” is the only thing not blowing on Cassadaga, that the throw-stuff-at-the-band video for that first single’s a prescient backlash harbinger (well, good thing indie kids have bad aim and weak arms).
We’ve instigated marathon listening sessions and it’s official: Ever since Conor Oberst stopped obsessing over the poetry of his personhood and instead tried tackling a larger political landscape, the Nueva Yorker’s increasingly lost his voice. Notice how John Darnielle’s better when he’s inventing stories about other people? Well, Oberst can be truly excellent at navel-gazing, utterly bland when trying to be a spokesperson for anything outside of his fevers and mirrors.
There are some smart ‘n’ striking images here (country singers dropping dead in classic cars, a woman birthing a “funeral dirge”), but with those come a higher thread count of embarrassing quips (“corporate or colonial, the movement is unstoppable” / “like the body of the centerfold, it spreads,” “So I made love / Yeah, I’ve been fucked … So what?”) as well as material that sounds ultra outdated (crap about the death of the postmodern author, etc). The latter makes weird sense: Cassadaga finds Oberst inching very close to music your parents (and Borders and NPR and the Boss [in all senses]) will like more than you do. It’s like he’s replaced his own vocal angst with these cheesy, melancholic string flourishes that sound pasted on rather than fully integrated. (It’s truly nice hearing his teary vibrato pop up on “No One Would Riot For Less.” More of that, Conor!)
The general ho-hum level raises another question: Now that Arcade Fire’s upping the histrionics (albeit with less colorfully satisfying lyrics) is Oberst as necessary for relocating our teenage angst? We sorta like “Middleman,” but it could very easily be a Ryan Adams B-Side, i.e. not that good.
But, well, is boring bad? Guess that’s the issue ? There’s nothing that blush-worthy (well, maybe that “centerfold” line, a dozen other forced rhymes, and the strings), but dude really needs to find a way to slip his heart back onto his sleeve. We have thread and some pins, if he’s willing to stop by?
Cassadaga is out is out 4/10 on Saddle Creek.