On one of this disc's many brilliant songs, a track called "Another Travelin' Song," Conor Oberst (aka Bright Eyes) sings: "I'm hunched over a typewriter/I guess you'd call that painting in a cave." And while this is music that unashamedly draws upon aging Dylan-y folk-rock roots - particularly Bob's "Blonde On Blonde" album in this case - such literate art is never truly old, nor is it ever out of fashion. Instead, Oberst sings with unbridled passion and a vulnerable voice about both personal and political pain.
With its plenteous supply of pedal steel guitar and the obvious presence of Emmylou Harris's haunting harmony vocals, this many times points back to country-rock influences. But Oberst is one smart and informed artist. For example, "Road To Joy" is not only a pun on Beethoven's "Ode To Joy," but it also borrows that piece's familiar melody to create its horn chart, whereas a more stripped down singer/songwriter folk approach is employed during the especially confessional "Lua."
Oberst takes a few obvious shots at the Iraqi war here. His best political aim is found on the nearly chaotic musicality that concludes "Road To Joy" with a lyric where Oberst bemoans reading about the body count in the morning paper, which immediately causes the hurt of this news to show all over his face. But he's equally effective with more personal moments, such as on "Poison Oak," seemingly about a drug addicted friend and/or lover.
Clearly, Connor Oberst is wide awake here, with the stubborn goal of bringing the rest of the planet up to his supremely focused mental state.