Nov 22, 2022
By Sean Fennell
Bright Eyes recently released the second in a series of reissues in conjunction with their new label, Dead Oceans. The first, released back in May, included the bands first three albums, A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997, Letting Off the Happiness, and Fevers and Mirrors. To accompany each record’s release, Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis, and Nathaniel Walcott—along with a few very key featured artists—went back and re-recorded a handful of songs from each record. Now, we have the second installment, featuring the band’s next three LPs, and arguably track the prime of this essential early aughts band.
Maybe it is my imagination, but these sorts of reissue endeavors seem to be more and more common of late. And, truthfully, I am not here to begrudge any attempt at pushing fans and listeners toward physical media, an essential foothold in the slippery slope that is the current music landscape. It is still worth asking, however, what the purpose of such a project is. The first album companion comes alongside Bright Eyes’ fourth LP, 2002’s LIFTED or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, and sees the band fundamentally change a series of songs from that record, including favorites like “Waste of Paint” and “Nothing Gets Crossed Out.” So, the question begs, why these songs? And, more broadly, why did Oberst and company feel that this is what people might want out of an expanded reissue?
LIFTED was an important album for Bright Eyes, one that saw them expand their scope and form habits that would carry through to their next record and breakout hit, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. It was also an album of indulgence, of ideas stretched and stretched again, sometimes to the point of disintegration. “The Big Picture” is both the first song on the original LP and the first to be reworked for the companion EP. Its original form, which runs almost nine minutes, features two full minutes of music-free ambling in the form of a conversation between Rilo Kiley bandmates (and Bright Eyes labelmates) Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett. That’s before Oberst takes center stage for the final seven minutes, itself an exercise in deliberate, wordy, stream-of-consciousness wandering. Even Oberst apologist—myself among them—must admit this song could have used an editor, or at least a tempo change. Evidently, the band agrees, as the new version not only excises that insufferable intro section but shifts “The Big Picture” from a lonely bedroom folk song into bluesy, barroom rocker, finding a sound that lands somewhere between The Hold Steady and Drive-By Truckers. It’s a tactic they use on a few of the record’s companion pieces and one is very effective, not in replacing the original versions per se, but in giving them a shot of adrenaline that, for longtime Bright Eyes’ fans, will be exciting without being heretical. (www.thisisbrighteyes.com)
Author rating: 7/10
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