Fevers And Mirrors
By: Eric G.
Desperation is an essential ingredient for music that digs deep enough to make a lasting impression. Conor Oberst understands this concept and exploits it for all it’s worth on Bright Eyes’ third full length, Fevers And Mirrors. Oberst has a sketchy voice; it trembles fiercely as he sings, but it relays his emotions like no other instrument could. His songwriting has evolved from four-track bedroom ramblings into a florid and expansive landscape, where layers of melody and instrumentation underpin his fragile voice.
Oberst tells melodramatic stories full of rage and despondency. His lyrics are showy and emotional, but they certainly paint the picture of his self-proclaimed pain well: “But no matter what I would do in an attempt to replace/All the pills that I take trying to balance my brain/I have seen the curious girl with that look on her face/so surprised she stares out from her display case” (“When The Curious Girl Realizes She Is Under Glass”). Oberst’s voice cracks and threatens to fall apart as he wavers between a singing voice and a scream.
Bright Eyes’ music has never been easy to digest, but as Oberst grows as a songwriter the accessibility of his music becomes heightened. The fidelity of his records is improving as well. Oberst recorded Fevers And Mirrors to twenty-four tracks, which seems worlds away from his first collection of songs only two years ago. Everyone stresses how advanced Oberst’s songwriting is for his age (he’s not yet old enough to drink), but that’s merely a patronizing aspect to stress, no matter how true it may be.
Fevers And Mirrors threatens to rock on occasion as evidenced by “Sunrise, Sunset.” The songs builds from a meek waltz to an explosive crescendo of mandolin, keyboards, and guitar along with Oberst’s dramatic cries: “Hold your sadness like a puppet/just keep putting on the play/But everything you do is leading to the point where you won’t know what to do/And at that moment you may laugh but there is someone there who will be laughing louder than you.”
The imagery is consistent and thematic throughout the record. Oberst discusses some of his obsessions from the obvious ‘fevers and mirrors’ to ‘scales’ and ‘time’ in a strange radio interview tacked onto the end of “An Attempt To Tip The Scales”:
“Interviewer: ‘How about this Ariennette? How does she fit into all this?’
Oberst: ‘I’d prefer not to talk about it- in case she’s listening.’
Interviewer: ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize she was a real person.’
Oberst: ‘She’s not. I made her up.’
Interviewer: ‘Oh, so she’s not real.’
Oberst: ‘Just as real as you or I.’
Interviewer: ‘I don’t think I understand.’
Oberst: ‘Neither do I, but after I grow up I will. I mean, a lot of things are really unclear for me right now.’”
At least Oberst has enough humility and self-deprecation to include such a ludicrous discourse on an album that practically implodes from claustrophobic intensity. Fevers And Mirrors flaunts Oberst’s unique and undeniably sharp songwriting skills as well as his growing penchant for melody and orchestration. It is also a challenging record that succeeds on levels most bands wouldn’t have the gall to attempt.