bright eyes – forced convalescence [track review]

The eagle has landed. Bright Eyes’ second single in rapid-fire succession, Forced Convalescence features some impressive additions to the usual line-up. The band have recruited Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame) on bass, Jon Theodore (Mars Volta and Queens of the Stone Age) on drums and percussion as well as Kip Skitter on additional percussion.

Forced Convalescence is an uplifting counterpoint to initial single Persona Non Grata. A few years back, around the time of the release of Oberst’s collection of demos which became known as Ruminations, the front-man was diagnosed with a cyst in his brain. The instrumental of this track chugs along, propelled by Flea’s bouncy yet subdued bassline as Oberst rattles off word-association style lyrical gems. A booming backbeat accentuated by arpeggiated guitar and a dreamy atmosphere leads into a earworm of a chorus complete with vamped piano and drum rolls. At face value, this is a cheery track, reflected in verbal passages such as:

“Now I’ve recovered completely,
Life is easy,
Hula-hooping around the sun,
The calendar’s little boxes,
All these presents,
Get to open every one”

To quote a Bright Eyes deep cut from several lifetimes ago, there is “joy in acceptance” here, as we hear a fully realised band with clean production and more mature lyrical themes.

“I’m not afraid of the future,
Have to suffer and repeat”

Conor Oberst has stated in interviews that if he wished to tell a fully autobiographical story, he would write a book instead of producing music. It’s impossible to completely separate the art from the artist in this instance, particularly when it comes to Oberst and his well-acknowledged struggles with addiction. Fans may be disheartened to hear yet more references to “needle(s) to oblivion” as well as a mention of Seroquel, a drug used to combat schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, which Oberst states is “fighting (his) fantasies.”

The truth is that Bright Eyes and Oberst’s best music has always come from a dark place, and this new track, despite its happy demeanor, promises that a classic Bright Eyes LP is on the way. Bright Eyes’ central appeal for many fans is a feeling that they are not alone in their struggles, so this appears to be a perfect time to make a long awaited comeback.

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