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Bright Eyes - Fevers And Mirrors

November 23rd 2009 23:30
Conor Oberst's voice is heard in all its nervous, wavering glory on Bright Eyes' 2000 release, Fevers and Mirrors. He seems to be at his most emotionally brittle on this, their third album. It is also their best album. Definitely in my top five favorites of all time.

Fevers And Mirrors Cover

It starts with a little boy reading an excerpt from Mitchell is Moving by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. The lines most representative of this album from the reading are:

"I want you to stay next door forever"
"I can't," said Mitchell, " I do not want to go wake up in the same old bed and eat breakfast in the same old kitchen. Every room in my house is the same old room, because I have lived there too long"

This story works well with "A Spindle, A Darkness, A Fever, And A Necklace," the song it is featured on. The song seems like its about someone Oberst cares deeply about. Either this person is no longer in his life, or he fears to lose this person. The lyrics suggest that even the sun might not rise without him or her.

One of Bright Eyes' biggest influences was the great Jeff Mangum. And like Jeff Mangum, Oberst is very skilled with his use of metaphor to elicit emotion. I believe that for a song to be truly great, it must have very emotional lyrics, but they cannot be bluntly stated like in “emo” music shit. The best lyrics, such as those heard on “The Center of the World,” are somewhat ambiguous, and can have very different meanings to different people.

Girls found honey to drench our hands.
Men cut marble to mark our graves.
Said we’ll need something to remind us of
all the sweetness that has passed through us.

The honey could symbolize anything that makes someone happy. For me, I'd say the honey is music. I think the marble headstones that remind us of the sweetness represent how the meaning of life is to be happy, and at the death of a loved one, we should remember all the things that gave them joy throughout their life. That's just my interpretation.

The instrumentals perfectly complement the lyrics. This is probably best demonstrated in “The Calendar Hung Itself” where frantic drum and guitar patterns parallel the nearly psychotic story of an obsessive Oberst seeing one of his former lovers with a new boyfriend. His distorted use of a few lines from “You Are My Sunshine” in this song illustrate the seemingly co-dependent relationship he had with this girl. Another good example of this is seen in “Sunrise, Sunset,” a song about dealing with Bipolar Disorder. This song has a simple chord progression. But it is far from simple. It cycles between slow and quiet during the depressive parts to loud and intense during the manic parts. The normally quiet Conor Oberst is actually heard screaming (sort of) during the highest points of the song. And then it drops to a near silence immediately following that. More and more layers of instruments are added as the song nears its peaks, and are all taken off immediately after the fall.

Part of my motivation to review this particular album was because of a review of it on Normally Pitchfork is pretty reliable in their album reviews, but Taylor M. Clark, who they paid to review Fevers and Mirrors is kind of an idiot. First of all, he claims all the emotion in Oberst's voice is artificial, which clearly is not the case. He says they “struggle for originality.” Really? Then why can I immediately tell that a Bright Eyes song that I've never heard before is in fact Bright Eyes? Their music is in a class of its own.

This guy wants us to believe he's smart by using long words, and phrases such as: “Far be it from me to criticize...” It sounds like he's writing a college senior thesis on this album.

Anyway, the whole reason I mention all this is as a segueway into my opinion of the mock interview at the end of “An Attempt to Tip the Scales.” Because Clark didn't understand it at all. He completely interpreted it as the opposite of its intended purpose.

“I simply cannot stress enough what a maddeningly self-indulgent mass of pseudo-depth this section of the album falls into. In this sickening chunk of narcissism, Oberst makes a laughable attempt to prove to his listeners that he is of a penetratingly deep intelligence by spouting strings of stale aphorisms that pass for rich understanding amongst those reluctant to have original thought. Not only this, but the mock interviewer actually interrupts Oberst to tell him how brilliant the album is. On the actual record he says this. I hate to sound haughty, but I have honestly never witnessed such tasteless, ostentatious self-promotion on an album by anyone. It must be heard to be believed.”

The whole interview was obviously meant to be a joke: comic relief from the heaviness of the rest of the record. Oberst was not even actually in the interview. One of his former bandmates, Todd Fink, from Oberst's first band, Commander Venus, was impersonating his voice.

The interview starts out sounding real. Conor (well Fink actually), comes in talking about how its raining outside, and then begins to describe the concept of the album. As it goes on, his responses to the questions become increasingly more bizarre. I first started getting suspicious when the interviewer says:

...Interviewer: It is, it is. Uh, how ‘bout this Arienette? How does she fit into all of this?
Conor: I prefer not to talk about it, in case she’s listening.
Interviewer: Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize she’s a real person.
Conor: She’s not. I made her up.
Interviewer: Oh, so she’s not real.
Conor: Just as real as you or I...

And my suspicions were all but confirmed by these lines

...Interviewer: That’s interesting. Now, you mentioned your depression.
Conor: No I didn’t.
Interviewer: You’re from Nebraska right?
Conor: Yeah so...

At this point, I had started laughing hysterically because it was so random and weird. Some more funny lines:

...Conor: Well, I did have a brother that died in a bathtub. Drowned. Actually, I had five brothers that died that way.
Interviewer: (Laughs)
Conor: No, I’m serious. My mother drowned one every year for five consecutive years. They were all named Padraic, so that's why they all got one song...

...Conor: Nevermind. How long have you worked at this station?
Interviewer: Oh, just a few minutes...

...Interviewer: Really, you’re telling me you’re doing all this for attention?
Conor: No, I hate it when people look at me. I get nauseous. In fact, I could care less what people think about me. Do you feel alright? Do you wanna dance?
Interviewer: No, I’m feeling sick...

The album as a whole is deeply personal. I've never heard songs that go so far in revealing all the insecurities of their writer as the songs on Fevers and Mirrors. It's like Conor Oberst looked into a mirror, and described exactly what he saw. And I think the mirror on the cover of the album is his way of challenging us to do the same: to not be afraid to be genuinely introspective for a change.

I highly recommend buying this album. You can get it here.


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4 Comments. [ Add A Comment ]

Comment by Norm

November 24th 2009 23:12

Comment by Mr. Bean II

November 25th 2009 00:54
I'm not 100% sure what you mean by that but thats cool. Thank you.
I guess you should probably drive safe too?

Comment by Anonymous

December 7th 2009 17:17
excellent review of my favorite bright eyes album. I think you truly understood conor's intentions. His lyrics are original and quite thought provoking. luckily, we have one more bright eyes album to look forward to.....

Comment by Anonymous

December 7th 2009 17:18
excellent review of my favorite bright eyes album. I think you truly understood conor's intentions. His lyrics are original and quite thought provoking. luckily, we have one more bright eyes album to look forward to.....

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