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Conor Oberst's "Upside Down Mountain" Reviewed

Come home Conor, all is forgiven

Come home Conor, all is forgiven

In 2005, I was dating a girl much younger than I am and we were discussing Bright Eyes and she was saying how much she disliked him though she had never really listened to him and so I emailed her “Lua” and dropped it. Around 2am in the morning my cell rings and I pick it up and she sings “I know that it is freezing but I think we’ll have to walk…” I don’t believe there is one single song in the lumbering heavy weight drag Upside Down Mountain that could possibly have a similar effect.

Wanna see if one of your favorite bands new albums try the Goat’s Head Soup -so named because I first used it when I didn’t much care the Stones record, imagine you don’t know who recorded it and see if you’d stick like it. The first three songs? The middle one would be a masterpiece if the lyric was sharper, if he dropped the outro, and if the bridge was better. The other two are melodic and lively if nothing special. If it was a three song EP it would go:

Time Forgot – B+

Zigzagging  Towards The Light – A-

Hundreds Of Ways – B

Average: B+.

And if it was a three song album I’d say, OK, not great but hey, not Outer South. But that is 12 minutes and there is 42 minutes left and it just goes on and on and on. And it drags, boy does it drag. It is a long long stretch of dreck: How can you compare “Enola Gay” to, say, another miniature portrait, “Breezy”. “Enola Gay”  sounds like fussy bullshit and ps can he do less with the name? Is it possible for him to have done less with the name? I think he wrote it to remind us how great Rhett Miller’s “Oppenheimer” was. And though I’ll certainly give him “Kick” despite the subject matter and “Night At Lake Unknown” which sounds like Jenny Lewis though the lyric is really clumsy, that still makes only five by my reckoning with only zig zag close to great.

This album is so weak it doesn’t know how to use Harrison like slide guitars on “Kick” -an ode to a Kennedy, which is hardly a surprise because Conor at 34 years old is such an insulated guy that he insults the rest of the world when he is not specifically insulting teenage girls for not leaving him alone. I am really surprised Conor is such a dick. I’ve met him three times and he has always been polite to me and  I interviewed his ex girlfriend Maria Taylor last year and she was very nice and she still likes him so he can’t be the arrogant asshole he pretends to be? Can he?

Which leads me to the lyrics. I consider Conor not only the best songwriter of the 00s but also the best lyricist of the 00s.

Here is a verse to an early song:

And I went to San Diego, the birthplace of the summer
And watched the ocean dance under the moon
And there was a girl I knew there, one more potential lover
I guess that something’s got to happen soon
Because I know I can’t keep living in this dead or dying dream
And as I walked along the beach and drank with her
I thought about my true love, the one I really need
With eyes that burn so bright, they make me pure

Now here is a verse from the best song on the new album:

Oh how the circumstances change
This world is smoke and steam
Compromise and metermaids
I’m going to leave here before to long
Zigzagging toward the light
I’m off to sing my boundless song

I know exactly what the former means. It is poetic but it has real meaning. What does the latter mean? The world IS NOT EVEN METAPHORICALLY SMOKE AND STEAM. It sounds like it means something, but it means nothing. As for for “compromise and metermaids” -why the Beatles reference? This is a guy who once wrote a ten minute dense dense dense most personal lyric imaginable without coming closer to this sort of rubbish.

What happened? Well, how about this? He used to write about real things. In the ten minute song he ends up in a hospital bed after an accidental overdose apologizing to his father. Where is the real Conor here? Why is he writing the same travelling lust stuff, which, clearly isn’t true about the 30 something singer songwriter. Where is his wife? In-Laws? Where is the life he lives? I’ll put up with 35 minutes of crap on a (way way way) overlong 54 minute album, if I believed him.

This is the worst album Conor has ever released, a deeply disappointing lie. Poor lyrics, over arranged songs, which, while his sense of melody is still intact, his sense of arrangement is sodomized and a sound so tasteful you’ll wanna puke, and a vision of the world that beggars belief. Finally, five years after his brilliant first solo album, he is just a tiny diamond in my memory. “My dreams are sex and violence…”. Come back, Conor. write about who you are.

Grade: B


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