bright eyes – persona non grata review

It’s hard to know what to expect from a band which hasn’t released music in almost a decade, but Persona Non Grata ticks all the boxes, paying homage to the classic Bright Eyes sound, infused with elements of Oberst’s more sleekly produced solo projects.

“I’m the last of the best”, Oberst boldly declares, and given the strength of his vocal delivery, he sounds sure of it. The next line “I’m your thoughts in the swamp” couldn’t feel more appropriate in these panic-stricken times. Oberst’s lyrics form a collage of personal experience, religious imagery and social commentary. The band follow ramping melodic tension with the welcome release of a stripped-back, Cohensque chorus – a moody unease resolves to blissfulness and serves as a welcome reminder of the escapism found in music and storytelling.

Punctuated by blasts of bagpipes  between verses, the track feels like an anthem rather than a bad cover version of past glory. The beginning has Oberst getting dressed for a date accompanied by Ruminations piano, he “(wears) a kilt like a Celt” and hides his feelings, but the entry of arpeggiated acoustic guitar and drums reintroduce us to Fever and Mirrors-era Bright Eyes with a more mature, confident vocalist. One who you believe when he insists “going to scream when I sing/going to die in the ring”.

When Oberst states “You want to be true to me, once again/and you want me to be true to you, once again” and asks “Oh how can we reconcile?”, his voice shakes with exasperation. The cult following Bright Eyes have garnered could surely suggest a happy compromise at a time when the emotional resonance Bright Eyes provide is more crucial than ever.


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