Conor Oberst, the prodigy whose growth into a multifarious, politically conscious, anti-corporate music magnate has made him the US’ undisputed King Of Indie, now has a new incarnation: ‘Conor Oberst’. Yes, he’s dropped his fragile, hyper-literate Bright Eyes persona to just be himself. Weirdly, last year’s self-titled album revealed ‘Conor’ to be a good ol’ boy who just wants to jam some country rock and chug some beers with his buddies, The Mystic Valley Band.
As with Jack White and The Raconteurs, the enjoyment of freeing himself from his usual introverted methods was palpable. Indeed, he’s been writing with the band on tour, and is releasing the results under a co-credit. Bless.
As is often the case when a rarefied musician enjoys themself too much though, this is a wildly self-indulgent
release; 16-tracks which veer between excellent and average. So what’s excellent? ‘Ten Women’ (“the nightmare, the fantasy!”) recalls the playful Leonard Cohen of ‘The Sisters Of Mercy’. ‘Snake Hill’ is a shimmering country epic with poison as its subject and molasses in its tone. ‘Big Black Nothing’ by guitarist Nik Freitas sounds like Hank Williams on a pre-pissy pants booze high. ‘White Shoes’ is just a beautifully melancholic acoustic Oberst gem. On the downside the self-conscious ‘Blonde On Blonde’ reference points grate, and ‘Air Mattress’ and ‘Cabbage Town’ could easily be by Counting Crows, those icons of banal Americana. Still, 70 per cent excellent is admirable for such a lengthy album. Plus, it’s hard being right-on all the time, so it’s good to see him having some fun (while the rest of us fight over rats in a poverty-stricken wasteland).