BRIGHT EYES Persona Non Grata gets 7.5/10

Bright Eyes

Persona Non Grata
Dead Oceans/Inertia


It’s hard to believe that it’s been nine years since we last heard new music from Bright Eyes. While Conor Oberst has kept himself busy in the 2010s, releasing albums under his own name, with his punk band Desaparecidos and collaborating with Phoebe Bridgers last year, it always felt that something officially given the “Bright Eyes” stamp for release was to be taken more seriously.

While Bright Eyes’ last release The People’s Key (2011) was a welcome addition to the catalogue, it didn’t get you right in the feels the way the Nebraska songwriter’s work across Lifted (2002) or I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning (2005) did, or the great leap forward in production that Cassadaga (2007) offered. Now after nearly a decade, Oberst has finally given us a taste of a new album scheduled for release later this year.

Bright Eyes have never really been ones to push singles in and of themselves, and Oberst made a point of saying that this track was one of many that he and and his long-time bandmates Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott could have chosen to be the first released ahead of the album. He shared in an Instagram post this week saying, “It was hard to decide which song to share first because they are all quite different, but this one seemed as good of a place as any to start. And it has bagpipes! Which is a first for us.”

Upon the opening lines it’s the same distinctive voice that cuts as deep as ever, accompanied by a lush but no-frills classic piano melody. The drums kick in soon after, accompanied by said bagpipes which certainly are a memorable feature, but the song itself doesn’t stray too far from the path we’ve come to expect.  The lyrics have always been the centre of Oberst’s craft, and continue to be so on this track.

While from his early days his ability to convey emotion in its starkest form was basically the hallmark of his repertoire, he has moved to becoming more obscure in themes and metaphors, particularly from Cassadaga forward, and this song retains that elusiveness. All the same, he still paints pictures in the mind like few others do with lines like “There’s a playground of children/ In the shadows of buildings/ There’s a line out the church/ Where your homelessness works,and “You left your innocence there/ In Tiananmen Square.”

This doesn’t feel like a single, but more of an album track made memorable by the bagpipes. And that’s nothing against bagpipes, or Bright Eyes’ album tracks, both are great and have their due audience. However Persona Non Grata feels like a story half-told, leaving you with a sense of intrigue and hope that there are better things to come yet from Bright Eyes in 2020.


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