Where the hell is the story?

Apr 5, 2006 (Updated Aug 2, 2006)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Incredible lyricism, varied music, interesting composition and instrumentation, UNIQUE

Cons:Moments of horrible production and lackluster instrumentation....

The Bottom Line: I still can't figure out where the story is or even if there is one.

Ever since Bright Eyes (aka Coner Oberst) burst onto the scene in 1995 as fourteen year old, he has been recieving incredible accolades from the musical critic community. And rightfully so. Many beleived him to be the next Bob Dylan (laughable though, no one will have the impact he did) because of his absolutely stunning lyricism and ability to capture emotion in song. After getting into him a year or so ago, I have jumped on the Oberst admiring band wagon, and am amazed at everything this man does. Although his refined sound has been a long time coming (it's really solidified on the pair of wondrous 2005 releases I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and Digital Ashes in a Digital Urn), his lyricism has been intact the whole way throught. This review is on the album that really solidified him as a force in critics minds -- the 2002 release LIFTED, or the story is in the soil, keep your ear to the ground. Even from the title, you can tell this is no normal release... read on....

Track Listing:
1. The Big Picture (3.5 stars)
2. Method Acting (3 stars)
3. False Advertising (4.5 stars)
4. You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will. (3.5 stars)
5. Lover I Don't Have To Love (5 stars)
6. Bowl Of Oranges (5 stars)
7. Don't Know When But A Day Is Gonna Come (2.5 stars)
8. Nothing Gets Crossed Out (4.5 stars)
9. Make War (4 stars)
10. Waste of Paint (4 stars)
11. From A Balance Beam (4 stars)
12. Laura Laurent (2.5 stars)
13. Let's Not Sh*t Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved) (5 stars)

Total - 51/65 - 78.5%

The Big Picture is a nearly 9-minute long acoustic ballad. It starts out with a couple in a car, listening to the radio while the woman sings along. You can tell from the beginning of this song that it's not type of music most people are used to hearing. The song itself is an excellent acoustic ballad, with Oberst's broken voice and moving lyrics. The music obviously isn't intended to be laced with high-tech production techniques to make it sonically pristine, instead it sounds like it was recorded with one mic in a room with horrible acoustics. It adds to the feeling of the song, but it also makes me wonder what I would say about this tune if it had been recorded with modern techniques. Also, I'm consistently amazed that Oberst can manage to write lyrics that are so substantial... he seems to be able to write something incredibly long and still make it interesting the whole time.

Method Acting is one of my least favorite songs on the album. The music is a bit hard and it sounds like it was recorded in one take with all of the musicians sight-reading. It's just kind of off. It however does have great lyrics with fit the music, which is a bit of a downer. Take a look:

So thank you friends for the time we shared
My love stays with you like sunlight and air
Oh I truly wish I could keep hanging around here
My joy is covering me, soon, I will disappear

The album really picks up with the wonderful False Advertising. It's a got amazing music carried by lightly strummed chords and sweeping strings. It has a very grand and old-fashion feeling to it. The lyrics are, as always, amazing. He speaks of his fame as a young songwriter and laments about the fact that he feels like a puppet to the people surrounding him. Oberst slaps critics in the face with a very comical scene, as well. He sings: I could tell you the truth like I used to and not be afraid of sounding fake. Now all that anyone is listening for are the mistakes... right thereafter, the music stops and a woman player apologizes for her flub. It's actually quite comical, and it's definitely purposeful in the context of the song.

Even though the title of You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will. is unneeded and utterly ridiculous, this song is fairly good. It starts with Coner and his acoustic guitar, but the production is absolutely horrid. It sounds like it was recorded with him in a well and a mic of the surface. It definitely picks up though, as all the instruments come in. The lyrics, as always, are brilliant, as we've become accustomed to with Oberst.

Lover I Don't Have To Love may be the best track on the album. The music is very dark and eery, which fits absolutely flawlessly with the lyrics. Here, Oberst sings us a story of a one night stand he's had. This is the kind of subject matter that could be horrible, but Oberst does it amazingly. He really shows his angst and apathy with the wonderful chorus lines I want a lover I don't have to love, I want a girl who's too sad to give a f*ck.... Incredible emotion shows through and, even given the subject matter, it's beautiful. The music, as I mentioned before, is also perfect for this song.

Bowl Of Oranges is another one of the album's high points. Instead of the dark, depressing music before this, this music is incredibly spirited and uplifting. It makes you want to walk with a bounce in your step. If that makes much sense to anyone who happens to read this. Lyrically, I think this song stemmed from drug use, which is very prevalent in Oberst's work. Here, though, it's approached from a positive standpoint, unlike much of his work. Although this song may be derived from various substances, it grows to something much further than that.

After the bland, uninteresting and overly long Don't Know When But A Day Is Gonna Come, we're given the incredible Nothing Gets Crossed Out. The music is very soft and inspiring, but the lyrics are far from this. Oberst is also backed by a wonderful female vocalist, giving his sometimes-weak vocals a great boost. I've listened to this song many days where I've felt like I can't handle the weight of the world. The lyrics are very easy to find solace in; it's great to know someone else thinks the same thing. Take a look....

The future has got me worried, such awful thoughts.
My head is a carousel of pictures, the spinning never stops.
I just want someone to walk in front and I'll follow the leader.
Like when I fell under the weight of a schoolboy crush.
Started carrying her books and doing lots of drugs. I almost forgot who I was,
But came to my senses.
Now I'm tryin' to be assertive, I'm making plans.
Wanna rise to the occasion, yeah, meet all of their demands.
But all I do is just lay in bed and hide under the covers.
I know I should be brave but I'm just too afraid of all this change.
And it's too hard to focus through all this doubt.
I keep making these "To Do" lists but nothing gets crossed out.

Make War is another great tune. It's got a country-infused feel, with some great pedal steel and a nice slide guitar solo. This song really works in the context of the album because it's an amazing change in pace compared to the rest of the tracks. The lyrics are also amazing. Oberst tells us to Hurry up and run to the one that you love and blind him with your kindness.. It also ends with a great sing-a-long section with everyone chiming in on the vocals. Excellent music. Waste of Paint is another tune with just Oberst and an acoustic guitar. Lyrically, he tells great stories of problems that people close to him have gone through. I'm sure this track meant a whole lot to several people, and it's great for everyone else to listen to, also.

Before the last track, we're given the duo of From A Balance Beam and Laura Laurent. The first is excellent. It has some very interesting and unique music, along wiht great lyrics. Unfortunately, it's hard to make out the lyrics at times because of the excess of instrumentation in the background. The mix, to me, seems a bit off. It's a great track though. Laura Laurent is the second stab at a country song on this album. Unfortunately, this one isn't nearly good as Make War. It sounds too much like a typical country song, and loves that rock feel that Oberst is able to infuse at other times. The lyrics also are some of the weakest on the album, along with the vocal performance. Definitely a dissapointing song.

Let's Not Sh*t Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved) sounds like it was recored in a bar (which I think is true) and is another incredible country-infused song. It's amazingly high-energy and really gets your bones moving. Oberst's melody and vocal performance are truly classic on this song as well. He also gives us one of the most incredible lyrical performances I've ever heard. Everything he says rings so true, and the sheer honesty is really quite sobering. It's also very long and interesting the whole time. It could have done with the strange and extended outro, but even that doesn't stop this song from getting a solid 5 stars. Here's a sample of the lyrics.....

I have seen a child is caught in the sad trap of gravity.
He falls from the lowest branch of the apple tree and lands in the grass and weeps for his dignity.
Next time he will not aim so high. Yeah, next time, neither will I.
A mother takes loans out, sends her kids off to colleges.
Her family is reduced to names on a shopping list.
Meanwhile, a coroner kneels beneath a great, wooden crucifix.
He know that there are worse things than being alone.
I have learned to retreat at the first sign of danger.
I mean, why wait around, if it's just to surrender? Ambition, I have found, can only lead to failure.
I do not read the reviews. No, I am not singing for you.

LIFTED, or the story is in the soil, keep your ear to the ground is an excellent album, and that's very hard to argue against. However, Oberst's music is still plagued by lack of production and lackluster instrumentation, at times. His lyrics, more often than not, make up for it. If there will ever be another Bob Dylan (and I contest there shall not) then he would be very high up on the list. Everything he writes is full of emotion, which is very hard to find in today's music. Very solid album and it's worth the money....

4 stars.....

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