Now with four new tracks, this 2004 EP finds Conor Oberst at a stylistic crossroads.
Mischa Pearlman 2010
Conor Oberst began his musical career in his early teens, issuing self-recorded solo albums and founding Saddle Creek Records with his brother, which helped to kick-start a burgeoning Omaha, Nebraska scene. Propelled by a powerful collaborative spirit, the label and its bands grew significantly over the next 15 or so years, especially Oberst’s career. Setting his neurotic insecurities, mental instabilities and melancholy romanticism to equally fraught – and, for his age, mature and ambitious – music, he released his first record as Bright Eyes in 1998 and burned brightly. 2000’s Fevers & Mirrors is one of the great albums of the last decade.
By the time this 2004 collaboration with Omaha band Neva Dinova was originally released, Oberst had been photographed kissing Winona Ryder and he assumed near-celebrity status as a result. He’d also begun veering away from the emotionally and musically intense, distraught stylings of his early songs towards a more folk- and country-inspired sound. One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels could well be seen as the turning point before he made the full transition.
This reissue begins with four newly-written collaborations. Of these, Happy Accident recaptures the doubt-ridden freneticism of early Bright Eyes, while Someone’s Love, sung by Neva Dinova’s Jake Bellows, is a barroom tale of longing which slurs along with appropriate drunken affection. Both can claim to be new highlights, standing alongside the release’s previous standout moment, the brilliant Black Comedy. A stripped-down requiem to lost youth and love, it remains one of the best songs in the Bright Eyes canon.
The problem is that, by comparison, the other five original songs and the two other new ones just sound slightly stale. I’ll Be Your Friend is the best of the rest, but Tripped trundles along apathetically and lethargically in faux-country sincerity, while Poison lasts too long and gets bogged down by too much country twang. Although only four minutes long, Get Back also outstays its welcome, and album closer Spring Cleaning lacks punch or variation. It’s a shame, because there are some truly marvellous moments here. Unfortunately, these high standards aren’t consistently maintained.