With the release of Conor Oberst’s new solo album Upside Down Mountain, it seems apt, at this new point in his career, to reflect on the best songs from the musical vehicle that shot Conor to success. Through the anxiety and self-hate that can only come from youth, the raw poetic skill and pain of his early material makes up the majority of his most memorable tunes. Here are three of the best:
A Perfect Sonnet There aren’t so many songs as emotionally intense as this early Oberst classic. Straight away there’s a feeling that the song is something special. Its driving acoustic guitar and Conor’s quivering voice turning to wails as he preaches his sinister envy towards the happy.
As one of the first songs of his to directly confront his depression, his sensitivity and vulnerability become his strengths in the explosive chorus. A chorus which snowballs into an avalanche of emotion, and when it resumes the verse it doesn’t falter. The way he sings “Laying in a bathtub of freezing water, wishing you were a ghost” sounding like he is suffering from hypothermia deep in his soul, with his voice warbling into a sad whisper.
The songs longing for one achievable desire to find meaning and closureis self-explanatory when he poetically sings: “Lately I’ve been wishing I had one desire, something that would make me never want another, something that would make it so that nothing mattered, all would be clear then.”
Let’s Not Shit Ourselves (To Love And Be Loved) One of the fullest sounding and lengthiest tracks of the Bright Eyes catalogue is the epic Lets Not Shit Ourselves. Made up of seemingly separate short stories about the inequality of opportunity in America, the difficulties of getting to colleges and the gravity of poverty, all at the fault of the “cowboy presidents”.
Oberst had become much more politically spirited after his Desaparecidos side project. His heart had almost been set on fire with rage at propagandist news outlets taking an “eye for an eye until no one can see”.
The song ends in a more personal story of the consequences of oppression and depression. Lyrically the whole song is genius. But it’s the ending that moves it seamlessly from the brilliantly political to the deeply intimate and important: “To love and to be loved. Let’s just hope that is enough.”
Lua Through all the elaborate word-play and political values of Bright Eyes’ songs, the quiet nature of Lua strangely stands above the rest. It’s neither bold nor complex, but its ability empathise with listeners, and transform their hung-over thoughts into a poetic and emotive device is inspiring.
With just an acoustic guitar to hand, the sentiments of the song are completely undiluted by distractions, and the playing communicates its feel perfectly.
It’s perhaps the pessimistic anti-thesis to Bowl Of Oranges, which has almost seemed like a temporary epiphany of happiness for Conor. The references to drugs, alcohol abuse and parties here are juxtaposed against the loneliness and the surreal contrast of the morning. With temporary feelings and “supplies” losing existence, the reflection of what is normal is examined over a pretty melody and trademark quivering voice.
Its quiet acoustic simplicity makes it stand out as one of the most touching and memorable of all his songs. And as one of his most popular songs, it is possibly the ultimate example of the brilliance of Bright Eyes.