A chronicler of early adulthood agonies, Conor Oberst elevates rickety alt-country to near-operatic levels of intensity. He’s quite a find, Oberst, at 20 already a veteran of his local scene in Omaha, Nebraska, and now on to his third album as the one permanent member of [a]Bright Eyes[/a].
That album, ‘Fevers And Mirrors’, is a godsend for connoisseurs of raging fuck-ups and the dubious benefits of a Catholic education. The music is lovely, ornate but understated arrangements betraying the helping hands of members of the excellent Lullaby For The Working Class, a subtle backing for Oberst to rasp and sob through 12 songs with far too many words in them. In a good way, obviously.
The obvious comparison for this beguiling mixture of lies, misery and pretension is Will Oldham. Oberst, however, has a penchant for the odd landlocked sea shanty (‘A Scale, A Mirror And These Indifferent Clocks’) and swaggering folk ballad (the terrific ‘Something Vague’) that recalls the grubby poetry of early Violent Femmes and even The Pogues. Occasionally, it all gets a bit too overwrought; the more ascetic may baulk at titles like ‘When The Curious Girl Realises She Is Under Glass’.
Mainly, though, ‘Fevers And Mirrors’ is great theatre, and Oberst has the self-conscious wit to include a mock interview wherein he painstakingly explains all the album’s symbolism before mentioning how his mother drowned five of his brothers. Whether he’s really suffered for his art is a moot point, but this is a tragicomedy that manages to be oddly affecting even at its most outlandish.