Leave the bright blue door on the whitewashed wall
Leave the death ledger under City hall
Leave the joyful air in that rubber ball today
Leave the lilac print on the linen sheet
Leave the bird you killed at your father’s feet
Leave the sideways rain in the crooked street remain
Leave the whimpering dog in its cold kennel
Leave the dead starlet on her pedestal
Leave the acid kids in their green fishbowls today
Leave the sad guitar in its hardshell case
Leave the worried look on your lover’s face
Let the orange embers in the fireplace remain
Everything it must belong somewhere
A train off in the distance, bicycle chained to the stairs
Everything it must belong somewhere
I know that now, that’s why I’m staying here …
I Must Belong Somewhere (excerpt)
The lines quoted above are just the most amazing of many exceptional lyrics to be found on Cassadaga and I can’t help being utterly captivated by them when listening to the song. I always knew that Conor Oberst was something special with regards to his lyrical abilities (I have been following his work for a long time – actually since their first EP Every Day And Every Night), but with many of the lyrics found on Cassadaga he more than proves what he is capable of. Actually, it was even evident on some of his early bedroom recordings, some of which date back to as early as 1995 when he was very young, and which were released later on CD and as part of a lavish 7-LP boxset spanning the years from 1997-2001 (which I am the proud owner of). But the lyrics quoted above really top everything he’s written before in my opinion. A simple but wise idea, poetically and beautifully expressed, with images I can picture only too well in my mind. The haiku style seasonal references, ‘Leave the autumn leaves in their swimming pool’, ‘Let the sideways rain in the crooked street remain’ work equally wonderful. The music to the song is a rolling, upbeat and uptempo country shuffle is excellent too, and the 6+ minutes length of the song further adds to the hypnotic quality of the song.
Cassadaga is a mighty fine album all round, with the exception of maybe 2 or 3 only slightly weaker songs (Lime Tree, Make A Plan To Love Me). There are many excellent tracks on there, in a wide variety of tempos, instrumentation and moods. A plethora of instruments is used on most tracks so it wouldn’t be wrong to call the album lavishly produced.
Much to my liking of course, the prevailing stylistic influences on Cassadega are Folk and Country (in comparison to Bright Eyes’ latest album The People’s Key which sounds distinctly more modern). On tracks such as Make A Plan To Love Me, Cleanse Song and No One Would Riot For Less there are also chamber music and Neo-Classical influences to be heard. That said, it’s only natural that the songs displaying those Country-Rock sounds most prominently, such as If the Brakeman Turns My Way, Four Winds, Classic Cars, Soul Singer In A Session Band, are among my favorite tracks on here.
I also have to quote some more of the amazing and profound lyrics from the album, this time from If The Brakeman Comes My Way. As I have said before, they are a huge part of what makes the album as outstandingly good as it is in my opinion.
‘When panic grips your body and your heart is a hummingbird Raven thoughts blacken your mind until you’re breathing in reverse
All your friends and sedatives mean well but make it worse Every reassurance just magnifies the doubt
Better find yourself a place to level out…’
and a bit later in the song
‘…first a mother bathes her child then the other way around The scales always find a way to level out…’
Musically, the track is gorgeous as well – like a couple of the songs on here not without leaning towards the bombastic side a little bit – that’s not normally a characteristic I would use to describe music I like all too often, but on here it’s fitting and not at all bad. Just the opposite, it works very very well in each of the songs fitting that description (Soul Singer In A Session Band, Classic Cars, No One Would Riot For Less).
Middleman is brilliant too, although there are many instruments featured too, in contrast to most other tracks on here, it sounds rather sparsely arranged with a light and airy sound. It also features one of the best uses of bongos I have ever heard, an instrument I normally hold little affection for. Cleanse Song is a rather the simple, but maybe exactly because of that, highly affecting and wonderful Folk and chamber-music influenced song getting its special appeal from a variety of woodwinds and a lap steel guitar used that make it sound utterly pretty – in a good way. Four Winds sounds breezy, easy going and is heavily dominated by violin and a mandolin – and the lyrics are among the most astounding on the album too. The somber, orchestral No One Would Riot For Less is amazing too, starting with only an acoustic guitar and vocals but later developing a steady build up of tension (and pure gorgeousness) which does find its release with a crescendo of strings, lovely female voices and a gorgeous pedal steel guitar, and an ending mirroring the start of the song most wonderfully.
Cassadaga is probably the highpoint of Conor Oberst’s and Bright Eyes’ career so far for me (and he’s only in his mid-30’s), but I will most probably regret that statement the next time I listen to the band’s 2000 album Fevers And Mirrors or I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning from 2005.