Conor Oberst Is the Next … Conor Oberst

Guest post by Dave Arey

I have absolutely nothing against Conor Oberst. In fact, I think his self-titled solo album shows that he has come a long way as an artist. Lyrically, it’s leagues better than Cassadaga, which collapsed under its own self-important weight. Still, something about Oberst and Bright Eyes has always bugged me: the whole “next Dylan” thing.

My caveats about comparing Oberst with Bob Dylan have nothing to do with their disparity in talent. I think comparing the two in those terms is insulting to Dylan. The more important difference is the perspective each takes.

No singer in modern memory has made more out of the pronoun “I” than Oberst. Through his music, we know almost everything about him. We know that he’s skeptical about Christianity (“Don’t Know When But a Day is Gonna Come”). We know he hates the current administration (many songs, but “When the President Talks to God” sticks out the most). We are even aware of his alcoholism and drug abuse (“Let’s Not Shit Ourselves,” “Lua”).

Think about this. How much do we know about Bob Dylan? Sure, he uses the pronoun “I” a lot, but rarely does this reveal anything about him. His most famous songs that contain “I” or “me” (“I Want You,” “I Shall Be Released,” “It Aint Me, Babe”) are not even about him. They’re about the potential lover or the man standing next to him in a crowd. They’re about everyone.

With this new album, Oberst is certainly trying to be more ambiguous. I doubt you’ll ever hear him sing a lyric like “Will my number come up eventually? Like Love is some kind of lottery” (from 2002’s “Waste of Paint”) again. Still, there is far more disclosure on the new record than you would ever find in a Dylan song. For instance, check out “Milk Thistle,” which ends the album on an introspective note:

I was poised for greatness
I was down and out
I keep death at my heels
Like a Bassett hound

If I go to heaven I’ll be bored as hell
Like a crying baby at the bottom of a well

On the surface, one could think that he’s saying nothing here, just throwing words at the wall. And in some ways, he certainly is — the interplay of “heaven” and “hell” seems especially contrived. Still, when you look at it closer, “Milk Thistle” is Oberst revealing who he is, warts and all. His entire career has been about expectations — in a couple years, he went from “The Next Dylan” to a burned-out drug addict to, today, an afterthought. Now, he’s trying to come to grips with the fact that he is all those things and none of them. That he wants you to love him, and he also wants you to leave him alone.

Oberst represents an extreme extension of ‘70s singer-songwriters — artists who were willing to sing about their feelings and give fans entry into their personal lives that would have been unheard of in Dylan’s time. In that way, “The Next James Taylor” is probably more appropriate than “The Next Dylan.”

Still, we don’t really need to call Oberst “the next” anything. He’s 28 now. He can go down whatever road he pleases.

MP3: Conor Oberst – “Milk Thistle”


8 responses to “Conor Oberst Is the Next … Conor Oberst

  1. I completely agree. I have been a fan of Bright Eyes and recently got Conor’s solo album and it does sound alot more like himself. Cassadaga was ok but his solo completely sheds new light on his music. I am also a big fan of Dylan but yeah Oberst gives you alot more insight to his life.

  2. totally wrong when you say that his songs are about him.

    in interviews he says things like, not all my songs are about me, i take emotions from other peoples experiences.

    so tell me how exactly do you know THESE songs are about him.

    the media are so far up there own ass they cant see the beauty conor oberst makes, you are all fake and should walk in the direction of a cliff.

  3. The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy were right, Hypocrisy IS the greatest luxury! It’s like your writing collapses under the weight of it’s own self importance. This is just the kind of spout I’d resist becoming involved in if overheard in public. It seems we agree on very little concerning Conor Oberst, and probably on less concerning music in general. The absurdity of directly comparing one artist to another is woefully apparent here, a sure sign of somebody who could believe that character can be quantified, people can be rated and humanity has a scoring system. Outside of a means of description, or a quantifiable quality Conor Oberst is just Conor Oberst. Are you the next Vox Populi?

    Some of my favourite musicians ever became great because their introspection, their insular love of the pronoun ‘I’ which afforded them a powerful and effective means of connecting with their crowd. Understanding yourself is surely the key to understanding others right? Too philosophical?

    It’s a pity that you open by pretending you’ve got nothing against the guy, then proceed to systematically contradict yourself by detailing your reasons for disliking him. On the surface, one could think that you’re saying nothing here, just throwing words at the web. I own being fool enough to read your work and respond though I guess! Good luck ever just enjoying something for it’s unique beauty. May you have a life filled with conditional joy and relative happiness!

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  5. greeenlighter

    Well, we know enough about dylan for me to go to college and study him if that says anything. I didn’t know putting yourself in music was treachery either, I thought music was a medium of art meant for that purpose. Conor Oberst himself didn’t feel justified in being called the next Dylan, he replied awkardly that he liked dylan, there are worse things to be called, and that he didn’t see it himself. More realistically Oberst wrote the song touching upon milk thistle for its liver re constructive perks.

  6. has no one listened to conor oberst for the past 13-12 years? i’m pretty sure his been soundng like himself long before his solo album. Him as an over emotional teen sounds pretty much like himself from “drunk kids the catholic” to him know as to a 28 year old with telling that he is still not really sure where orwhat he wants form “I must belong somewhere”
    I’m pretty sure he wil continue to be himself in his music.

  7. i think your looking way to much into this its music its good and thats all that matters do u really think dylan cares about it no he wrote his music now oberst is writing his and even if ever one cares so much about it y do u

  8. You make some valid points but some flawed negativity. Burned out drug addict was a bit much and I don’t see why you have a negative stand on Cassdagga as well.

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