There was a slightly anticlimactic air about the way Bright Eyes exited the scene back in 2011, ‘The People’s Key’ making for a disappointingly subdued farewell to the beloved Omaha indie-folk-slash-rockers after a string of albums that could warm even the coldest of hearts. With frontman Conor Oberst barely sitting still in the intervening years, enjoying collabs with the likes of Phoebe, alt-J and First Aid Kit as well as his own successful solo career, it seemed like that was that. But with news of their return in January coming just one week before MCR also announced that they were back! back!! back!!!, 2020 looked like it was going to be one hell of a year. Who knew.
Nostalgia is lovely for a while of course, but it sometimes doesn’t take long before it’s got you staring awkwardly at your shoes while you think about how old everyone got. Thankfully then, ’Down In The Weeds’ is more than just that. Sure, the first rush of emotion hits hard when the familiar crackle of emotion in Oberst’s voice arrives, but there is still plenty here to keep things fresh. Always capable of mixing the most mundane moments in with the big questions, songs pivot from pondering existence and geo-politics to describing making celery soup.
Most of all, it just sounds like a band that are enjoying being a band again, no longer in danger of going through the motions. The mix of the freewheeling lyrical style of their later work hit the sweetest of spots when they collide with their hook-laden tendencies of their peak on moments like ‘One And Done’ and ‘Mariana Trench’ while ‘Dance And Sing’ sits alongside some of their very best. Evocative and cinematic, romantic and poetic, it’s (another) minor tragedy of 2020 in that it makes for the perfect gentle festival hangover cure in a year where we can’t have them. Like much of normality, it will have to wait for now. But damn, it’s still good to have them back and shining brightly once more.