Conor Oberst opens the latest Bright Eyes release, Four Winds, with a violin-fueled title track that channels his previously untapped inner Springsteen. The song feels like an outtake from Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. , as recorded with the gypsy band that backed Dylan on Desire, complete with a violin melody cribbed from the Boss' rendition of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." What follows doesn't sound so much like Springsteen, but, well, it doesn't sound much like Bright Eyes, either. There's something too restrained about the whole performance, from the way that Oberst sings to the less imaginative band arrangements. Sure, he's been weeding his quirks for years now, but these six songs mark a major break with Oberst's former self. Which doesn't mean the record's bad. It's just different, as when Dylan lost his sense of the absurd and got all serious. You miss the youthful spark, but it's hard to complain when the songs are as solidly crafted as the more inspired moments here ("Reinvent the Wheel" and "Cartoon Blues"). And it helps that the lyrics are frequently brilliant.
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