Conor Oberst is the only musician who, at age 29, can sing, “Dementia you better treat me good,” without the slightest bit of irony. After hearing Outer South, the sophomore release from Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band, one can only wonder if dementia has indeed set in. There are no remnants of the boy who, when love pissed him off, once sang, “I want a lover I don’t have to love/I want a girl who’s too sad to give a f*ck.” Oberst, the once emotive child prodigy, has grown into a beer-guzzling rocker at 30. A lyrical analysis and our thoughts on why the album is an abomination, after the jump…
At a whopping 72-minutes long, Outer South is a masturbatory display of unimaginative, southern swagger. It’s watered down Allman Brothers for indie kids. “Nikorette,” the first single, is comprised of generic chords, clichéd solos, and the vocal enthusiasm of a tumbleweed: “I’m just trying to stay human being/Sitting in the sun eating ice cream/Texting my friend about a bad, bad dream.” These lazy lyrics are the portrait of an artist as an older man, one who prematurely reached creative climax and has nothing left to write about.
Even when the music is fierce and compelling, as in the raucous “Roosevelt Room,” Oberst insists on chiming in with his lyrical mediocrity: “You want me to pay my taxes/So that you can propagate your lie/While those barefoot dudes down in New Orleans looking like they’re gonna die.” Never mind that his Hurricane Katrina sentiments are four years late — did he really just refer to the survivors of a catastrophic natural disaster as “barefooted dudes?”
The band’s name reads better in reverse: The Mystic Valley Band & Conor Oberst. As a collaborative effort, nearly half of the songs are written and sung by other members of the group. The results range from good (“Big Black Nothing”), to bad (“Bloodline”), to just downright ugly (“Air Mattress”). The latter tune, entrenched in outlandish power-pop synthesizer, is basically about having sex on an Aerobed.
But it’s not as if Oberst didn’t warn you. In “Slowly (Oh Slowly),” the opening track with the dementia lyric, he subtly acknowledges his failure to outshine the songwriting brilliance of his youth. “My mind keeps slipping back into the past — I hope someday that I can get it back.” We hope so, too.