I got Cassadaga in the post today, ordered from the US with the Four Winds EP (which you stupidly can't get over here). It was such a treat opening it all, they had sent free stickers and a free mini CD (Susan Miller Rag). There is a little viewfinder thing to look at the (Smashing Pumpkins-esque) magic-eye style sleeve artwork and it felt quite magical, I felt quite sorry for people who download only. It reminded me of the excitement I felt when I first sat down with Wide Awake and Digital Ash; how exciting was THAT for a rabid Bright Eyes fan.
So here I was again. Except slightly less excited. Because I was dreading the new 'country' direction. And was I right?
As usual it opens with the dirgy tuneless talky bit sent to annoy you. Some really great songs have been first on Bright Eyes albums, lost because it's so easy to just skip, skip, skip. It's hard to tell how loud the volume is on these bits, Conor. I want to put my stereo on and get straight back in bed frankly. This song Clairaudients is quite nice, neither here nor there really, but definitely not too country.
Next is Four Winds, which I've heard a billion times now. Like it better than I used to, and some of the lyrics are really clever, although they don't really mean anything to me personally. It's catchy, radio-friendly, but so are a lot of things and it's not a compliment. This is one you just have to put up with at shows really.
If The Brakeman Turns My Way I'd heard was a good one, but the first time I heard it massive alarm bells went off in my head. Conor sounds like he's putting on some weird Southern accent that definitely isn't his and it turned me right off. He holds a note in a way I've never heard him do before and it just sounds odd. There is something really cheesy about the chorus. It could be a fifty year old singing this. Having said that, I've listened to it more and it does grow on you, but still this is the direction I don't really want Bright Eyes to go down. I don't know, 'bullet train, crazy rain': it all sounds a bit cliched to cynical me. This is my favourite band. This song just doesn't make sense to me.
Hot Knives is one of his story tracks. I think I'd like it a million times better if they turned the wank guitar down. Just turn the drums and the guitar down and turn Conor's voice up. This album is heavily over-produced. It reminds me of America's Sweetheart by Courtney Love in a way, in that there was (contrary to popular belief) about four good songs on there, they just needed stripping down massively. I do like this song, the music is just annoying somehow. I pretty much hate all female backing vocals on Bright Eyes records too. I'd like to hear this song live and see how it works then.
Make a Plan to Love Me has got Disney film love-song written all over it to me, which obviously is horrific. By this point in the first listen myself and the boyfriend were feeling very down-hearted. This doesn't seem like a genuine love song to me. I never understood the fuss about First Day of My Life, but that is five million times more meaningful than this. It's just not doing it for me at all! It's one of those ones where it's like I feel like I should love it, but actually it's so cheesy I can't. Boo. At least he's singing in his normal voice though. And no horrible guitars! Hurrah. Lots of female backing vocals though- not good. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of female singers I like, I just think the femal backing on Bright Eyes albums is just too sugary half the time.
Soul Singer in a Session Band I know quite well from a while back. I didn't like it very much until I heard it live at Koko and it was actually very good live. The album version seems slightly too slow for my taste and I was waiting for the big shouty ending which never really happened, which was a big mistake.
Classic Cars is an awful song title, but the words are pretty good. It's a bit too country-fied for me, but he almost shouts, and at least sounds a bit pissed off. I think this one could grow. Ignore the wank guitar! Honestly, try.
Middleman I immediately recognised as he played it live at Koko last month. The intro also sounds loads like a song on the new Patrick Wolf album. This song is pretty good, a change of pace, a bit darker.
The album actually gets good.
I know you'd lost hope, and thought I was a bitter old bitch, but here it is. Song number nine! I actually felt relieved. All was not lost. My boyfriend's feet started tapping. Cleanse Song is classic Bright Eyes, Bowl Of Oranges-esque. This could be off any Bright Eyes album. No country! Yay. Just a simple, sweet under-produced song. Hallelujah!
I have had a very pared-down live version of No One Would Riot For Less for about two years. I absolutely loved the song and couldn't wait to hear a studio version of it, but then got a bit scared it was going to be an over-produced mess. Luckily they have played it pretty well, there are times when you think 'don't do it!' with the strings but it is mostly kept quite understated and atmospheric. They lyrics are really beautiful: it's all about the last line. THIS is a love song. This is the song I thought of when my tent got trampled on at V and me and my boyfriend were in sleeping bags under the stars getting rained on. It was QUITE similar to word war! I'd love to hear this live. Best thing on the album by a mile.
Coat Check Dream Song made me remember that Digital Ash wasn't just a collective hallucination: it has beats! If only we could have had a bit more of this. Ecstasy is mentioned! Conor is still a young man, not an ancient old yokel. Thank God. I love the fact there is some sort of foreign hollering on the end of this, I love the fact the country fans will hate this.
I Must Belong Somewhere I have had a live version for around two years as well, in fact I thought this was an old b-side for some reason. Can't fault it, it's a good song. He shouts less than on the version I have. Can you tell I miss the shouting? I miss the shouting LOTS.
Lime Tree I'd also heard was a goodie. It doesn't have much of a tune, but it is very stripped down which is good. The lyrics are actually meaningful and not trite. I kind of wish it would kick in though.
In conclusion, I must stress I've only listened to the album three times, and I'm sure some songs will grow. But first impressions are important too. I miss the ROCK. I miss the anger. Sadness is OK, but I liked the anger. I miss Conor's voice fucking up, because they've airbrushed it out. I think they should lose Mike Mogis, who is not a genius, as some girl shouted at Koko behind me, but rather a smug character riding on Conor's coat-tails. Conor is the genius in Bright Eyes, and his voice and lyrics are more important than any fucking fancy pedal or guitar.
Where can Conor go from here?
Hopefully somewhere else entirely. This can't be it for the next 40 years, can it...?