Conor Oberst is the type of guy who would have no trouble making you (or, more to the point, me) feel hopelessly unproductive.
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Let's start off from when he was a fetus and probably plotting out his taking-over-the-indie-world grand master plan...or, you know, when he was thirteen years old. He was a year younger than me, people, and he was already recording and releasing and owning Saddle Creek (the label all the upturned-nose bands are on). At age fourteen, I'm barely recording, and still stuck playing those eight-minute sets at the Jammin'-flipping-Java.
A little bitter? Uh. No.
But the point is, Conor Oberst is most definitely prolific. And from the first second of Lifted you definitely recognize it.
Well. Maybe not the first second. After all, the first three minutes of Lifted are just conversation and an engine revving, and the rest of that sprawling eight-minute song is Conor Oberst mumbling to a tune. It isn't the most exciting song, and it certainly doesn't help anyone to see "The Big Picture."
AHAHAHAHA! Get it? See, the first song is called "The Big Picture"...and then the...man, I need a new writer.
However, if you don't let yourself be put off by the pretentious, Mars Volta-on-a-bad-day-esque crap that is "The Big Picture," you will be rewarded with the brilliance of "Method Acting."
There is something that sort of reeks of emo about "Method Acting." There is something that shows signs of the musically inept about it, no matter how many impressive-sounding guitar credentials Oberst may have. There is something a little uncontrolled about how instruments are tossed into the mix without a thought to which instruments sound good together. But who cares? When all of it is put together, it sounds less like a mishmosh and more like what is known in the business as fan-effng-tastic.
But it really doesn't get much better than the one-two-three waltz of "False Advertising."
When I saw Bright Eyes live and they played this song, everybody was waltzing. Everybody. I ended up waltzing with some twenty-two year old guy who had no one else to dance with. (And by the way, if you're reading this: You're a fantastic waltzer, man.) The harmony on "Until the swaying starts to make you sick"...the little screw-up in the middle that escaped the editing room...the fact that his voice is perfectly suited to the song...
"You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will." is a bit reminiscent of the Meat Puppets (God, I love the Meat Puppets), in that the Bright Eyes gang have that little country-tinged melody and the little country-tinged whine going. The first line and its accompanying explanation are just about brilliant: "You say that I treat you like a book upon a shelf."
Who hasn't felt used like that? Oh come on. You in the red sweater, stand up, you too. You know you have.
There. All in a row. We have all been used.
"Lover I Don't Have To Love" was my favorite song off of Lifted for a LONG time, mostly because of the violin (or is it viola?) chorus and the drama. I love drama in a song, and I love the lyrics "I want a boy who's so drunk he can't talk" because, um, so do I. Yeah, I actually want a boy who's so drunk he talks really smart, but that's neither here nor there. Point is, until I started falling in love with "Bowl of Oranges," this was my favorite song off Lifted.
There's a cool, danceable little shuffle to "Bowl of Oranges," and my favorite lyrics off this album: "I came across a doctor who appeared in quite poor health, I said/ There's nothing I can do for you you can't do for yourself/ He said oh yes you can, just sit and hold my hand." I love the horns, and the little melody, and hell--even Oberst's nasal, Omaha voice. Even little sad indie boy is having fun with this song.
"Don't Know When But A Day Is Gonna Come" is nowhere near my favorite song. Oberst goes back to being little sad indie boy, and starts moaning about how misunderstood he is and how he took his punishment as a child and sat in a chair and twiddled his thumbs, and sh*t we don't want to hear about in a song. To make it worse, most of the song is just him and his shoddy guitar work. Oy gefilte fish. (Please, please don't ask.)
"Nothing Gets Crossed Out" introduces a semi-duet between Oberst and Some Chick with a Nice Voice, and is much less dramatic--a nice change, especially on my ears. Without all the complex string arrangements and random instruments like a glockenspiel or whatever coming into play, you can really hear how beautiful the song is.
"Laura Laurent" is another lament, but this time instead of being just sad, it's really lovely. "Laura, you were the saddest song disguised as a woman," Oberst moans, strumming his guitar forcefully, back into his element of complicated string arrangements. Ah, well. The understated quality was good while it lasted.
This leads into an intro of the charming "Can I get a godd*mn timpani roll? Here's a godd*mn song! For you godd*mn people!" to "Let's Not Sh*t Ourselves." This ends up being the ultimate barroom anthem, complete with a drunk chorus (they are actually credited in the musical credits as "the drunk choir"--this is why I love Conor Oberst) and Conor Oberst leading them with his raucous screech of "Everybody! Come on!"
Oh, and you want to know the most important thing about Conor Oberst?
He's really, really...attractive.
Okay, maybe it isn't the most important thing. But if you're able to write insightful, beautiful lyrics, gorgeous melodies, and own the same record label you've owned since age thirteen...well, what else is left?