‘Potential, you are a loaded line. / The veil between the world and the faceless bride’, sings Conor Oberst on his last solo album Outer South.
The People’s Key, what looks to be Oberst’s last record under the Bright Eyes moniker, comes somewhere between the electronically-tinged Digital Ash and the theatrical Cassadaga and is an album that devote fans will undoubtedly welcome to their collection but also one that ultimately ranks far from the artist’s best.
Lyrically and thematically, it draws upon this aforementioned notion of potential, contemplating the artist’s past and his uncertain future. ‘Shell Games’ paints life as endless and an unavailing cycle and Oberst as a Sisyphean figure laboriously pushing that boulder up the mountain just to watch it fall back down.
The conceptual nature is what remains most interesting. These doubts and contemplations are balanced by philosophical ideas of transcendentalism and singularity, while sci-fi authors, such as Dick and Verne, are widely drawn upon. Oberst finally seems to conclude with an epiphany that these initial earthly concerns are absurd if time is fixed and the future inescapable.
How ever time unravels, we are reminded of a question Oberst originally posed almost a decade earlier in the song ‘Nothing Gets Crossed Out’ from the album Lifted: ‘Working on the record seems pointless now / When the world ends who’s going to hear it?’