Saturday, August 22, 2020

The 15 Most Depressing Bright Eyes Songs of All Time (Number 1 Will Shock You!)

We've finally seen the release of the 8th Bright Eyes album (that's right, 8th) as well as maybe actually the final final Bright Eyes album this time, Down in the Weeds Where the World Once Was (August 21, 2020). 

In celebration, here is a list of the 15 most depressing Bright Eyes songs.

When doing ruminations on the "saddest" Bright Eyes songs, the word "sad" could mean many many things. There are a lot of sad tunes that are really beautiful and leave you with a sense that things are going to be better for our little Conor Oberst in the future.

This is not that list.

This is a list of the songs that are the most depressing, most downer, no hope slogs that Bright Eyes has to offer us for when you need a good cry.

I DID make a few other playlists to go along with this post: the most heartbreaking Bright Eyes songs, the most surprisingly fun Bright Eyes songs, the most hopeful Bright Eyes songs, the most dirtbag Bright Eyes songs. Check them out here

15. Arienette
14. Feb. 15th
13. It's Cool, We Can Still Be Friends
12. When The Curious Girl Realizes She Is Under Glass
11. Going For The Gold
10. If Winter Ends
09. Don't Know When But A Day Is Gonna Come
08. Napoleon's Hat
07. A New Arrangement
06. The Big Picture
05. Hot Car in the Sun
04. A Spindle, A Darkness, A Fever and A Necklace
03. No Lies, Just Love
02. Padraic, My Prince
01. Amy in the White Coat
#1 W/ A BULLET? Scroll to see! 


Listen on spotify (embed below)

15. Arienette from Fevers and Mirrors (2000)

"Oh stay with me Arienette until the wolves are away"

A nice little bit of poetry to personify mental illness as wolves. We've also got a laundry list of deviant natures to define oneself and, of course, the very healthy behavior of putting all of your hopes for recovery onto an idealized fictional woman, Arienette.


14. Feb. 15th from A Collection of songs (1998)

"With these drinks I plan to collapse and forget this wasted year, these wasted years. Devoted friends, they disappear."

Conor wrote himself a birthday song to remind himself every year how pointless life is. It's also perfect that his birthday is right after Valentine's Day, which I feel like is a strong unwritten influence. I have a thing for this version he recorded when he was 17, because it's so very very raw. But, there is also a version on Noise Floor that's cleaner.



13. It's Cool, We Can Still be Friends from Noise Floor (2006)

"I'm pouring some whiskey right now. I'm going to get so, so drunk that I pass out and forget your face by the time I wake up."

The king of breakup songs. A Bright Eyes classic. Just a five and a half minute diddy about how not to deal with the end of a relationship. 

This song isn't on spotify, so I couldn't include it in the playlist above unfortunately, but listen to it here on youtube.



12. When the Curious Girl Realizes She Is Under Glass from Fevers and Mirrors (2000)

"Just give me November, the warmth of a whisper in the freezing darkness of my room.
But no matter what I would do in attempt to replace all these pills that I take, trying to balance my brain."

I have a thing for the songs that sound like Conor is being tortured. He and Mike Mogis were trying to make this one sound like if you were listening to your neighbor through the wall, which is why there's a tv in the background. But even the TV is mocking Conor, saying "this looks like blues 101."

Otherwise, it's got all the key ingredients: suicide, depression, medication, vanity, and some kind of weird thing with a girl in Ruba.

11. Going For The Gold from Don't Be Frightened of Turning the Page (2000)

"They will recite their sadness like it's some kind of contest. Well, if it is,I think I am winning it. All beaming with confidence as I make my final lap.The gold medal gleams, so hang it around my neck. Cause I am deserving it: the champion of idiots."

A lovely song where Conor condemns himself for being a sad sack and for being too fucked up to have normal feelings. There's also some great sad flute on this one as well.

This song shows up on two releases, the EP Don't Be Frightened of Turning the Page, and the really excellent split EP with Son, Ambulance, Oh, Holy Fools.



10. If Winter Ends from Letting Off the Happiness (1998)

"But I fell for the promise of a life with a purpose, but I know that that's impossible now. And so I drink to stay warm and to kill selected memories, because I just can't think anymore about that or about her tonight. I give myself three days to feel better or I swear I'll drive right off a fucking cliff. Because if I can't learn to make myself feel better, then how can I expect anyone else to give a shit?"

Another one where Conor's voice sounds like he is very physically suffering. This is the opener for 1998's Letting off the Happiness, and a lot of the openers to albums made the list. It's a Bright Eyes tradition that these tracks are long and have audio collages to "ward off casual listeners," so it makes sense that the most difficult to listen to tracks would be the most depressing.

This one really cuts deep as an opener. Just no easing in, no holds barred. Only deep, deep pessimism.



09. Don't Know When But a Day Is Gonna Come from Lifted (2002)

"There is no truth. There is only you and what you make the truth."

This is one of Conor's magnum opuses of depression. Right out the gate it wrestles with religion, the absurdity or war, the complications of relationships, and the whole time it's essentially trying to figure out the meaning of life, only to come to the conclusion that there isn't one.



08. Napoleon's Hat from Lagniappe (2005)

"Yeah, truth can leap to solace or a life long bender. It's like wading through a wasteland where a town you love once stood. You just cry each time you think of when times were good."

This is another song of Conor's that tries to address the "times." He wrote it for a compilation called Lagniappe and in response to hurricane Katrina. This is also after he had written the strongly worded song "When the President Talks to God" that was a scathing criticism of the Bush administration, and "Napoleon's Hat" follows suit. 

Political hopelessness is one of Bright Eyes' best flavors of depression, because it's so gritty and real and truly disheartening.



07. A New Arrangement from Every Day and Every Night (1999)

"You nod in an acknowledgment of your frequent mood swings. Yeah what good's an acknowledgment? It still don't change things."

This is a painful song about intervention and all the emotions that go with it of guilt and fear of hurting those around you through your selfishness. It's an older one from the Fevers and Mirrors era and could very easily fit on that album, because it mentions calendars in the beginning, but, it ended up on an EP, Every Day and Every Night

It also has a killer sad violin in it.

06. The Big Picture from Lifted (2002)

"ll send you all this message in code, under ground, over mountains, through forests and deserts and cities. All across electric wire, it's a baited line. The hook is in deep, boys, there is no more time. So you can struggle in the water and be too stubborn to die or you could just let go and be lifted to the sky."

This is another album opener and a very existentially heavy one. Like "Don't Know When But a Day Is Gonna Come," it cycles though big topics: religion, politics, philosophy, love, family. The main idea Conor is struggling with is believing that you can't find an answer to things really. That the more you struggle, the more unhappiness you will find. And also that death is a sweet relief.

05. Hot Car in the Sun from Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was (2020)

"Felt so hot in the parking lot. The car windows were all rolled up. Just a dog dying in the Chevrolet."

This new album is filled with some of the more downer lyrics than we've seen from Conor in a long time. A lot of the album is about his divorce from his wife Corina. The lyrics remind me of "Lenders in the Temple" from his first self-titled solo outfit with the line "If I loved you, well that's my fault." The song was about someone else, I think it's "Breezy" or Sabrina Duim, who was a harpist for the band who died in a tragic car accident. "Lenders" is a more poetic song and this one is pretty blunt. He compares himself to a dog dying from heat exhaustion in a car.



04. A Spindle, A Darkness, A Fever and A Necklace from Fevers and Mirrors (2000)

"Don't you do what you've wanted to. Yeah, don't destroy yourself like those cowards do and maybe the sun keeps coming up because it has gotten used to you and your constant need for proof."

Another one of these songs where Conor is debating suicide.The poetic lyrics really boost the sad of Conor's quivering voice. As this is another album opener, the audio sketch on this one is a children's story called “Mitchell Is Moving” by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. It just adds another heartbreaking element to the song.

03. No Lies, Just Love from Don't Be Frightened of Turning the Page (2000)

"When Justin spoke, very plainly, he said, "now, of course it's your decision, but just so you know, if you decide to leave, soon, I will follow"

There are a few songs that mention a very specific suicide attempt in Chicago with "whiskey and pills," including "Let's Not Shit Ourselves" from Lifted and "The Calendar Hung itself" on Fevers and Mirrors. Whether or not this is autobiographical isn't clear, but Conor did spend a few days in a hospital in December of 2000. 

Ironically for a song about suicide, this one is also one of the only ones on the list that will have any kind of positive message, with Conor finding his "purity" at the end. 

Although, there's nothing quite like a guilt that forces you to trudge on through life because of the fact that if you kill yourself, you'll also be killing your brother, who promises to copy you.



02. Padraic, My Prince from Letting off the Happiness (1998)

"I had a brother once. He drowned in a bathtub before he had ever learned how to talk."

This is a mythic Bright Eyes song. In it, Conor says he had a brother that drowned in a bathtub as an infant. It had interviewers puzzling if it was true or not for a hot minute. You get a pretty clear answer in the audio sketch on Fevers and Mirrors at the end of the song "An Attempt to Tip the Scales." 

You can hear the violent self-immolation in Conor's voice in this one and there's something to this imagery that hits hard. I just imagine Conor taking on the form of a drowning baby by getting wasted and trying to kill himself locked in a bathroom.

01. Amy in the White Coat from Noise Floor (2006)

"Your older sisters, I had them too. But you're my favorite. You know it's true. You look like your mother in that thin disguise. Your parting mouth, your shining eyes. And the way that you hate me. And the length of your hair. It's the reason I made you. It's the bond that we share."

This song is monstrous and unbelievably fucking sad. 

Conor uses a poetic style to recount the rape of a young girl by her father. It launches you right into the room where it's happening with no mercy.

Only in the second half of the song does the perspective shift to a friend of "Amy's", who we presume is Conor. Which makes it seem like this is a true story about someone that Conor knew. I don't know the true details, but it's heartbreaking.

Put the song on, read the lyrics, and it will destroy you.

THE REAL #01. First Day of My Life

"I'd rather be working for a paycheck then waiting to win the lottery."

Throughout my life, it has been very hilarious to encounter folks who assume that this is a beautiful love song. It certainly is the most POPULAR Bright Eyes song. It sounds sweet and it's about love and it's much easier to stomach than a lot of their other stuff.

However, when you know what the song is really about, it's truly depressing.

At first listen, it seems like a touching song about a couple getting past a fight and finding true love. But you have to listen to the song "Waste of Paint" to get the appropriate context.

There's a line in it that goes like this:

"The last few months I've been living with this couple. Yeah, you know the kind who buy everything in doubles. They fit together like a puzzle. I love their love and I am thankful that someone actually receives the prize that was promised by all those fairy tales that drugged us. And still to me I'm sick, lonely. No laurel tree, just green envy. Will my number come up eventually like love's some kind of lottery where you scratch and see what's underneath. It's sorry. Just one cherry."

So for Conor, winning the lottery means finding true love. The kind of love that fits together like a puzzle. It's that perfect fairy tale dream of what a relationship is supposed to be.

The relationship in "First Day of My Life" is not that relationship. It is the relationship that Conor scratched and underneath he found only one cherry. 

The problems in the relationship in "First Day of My Life" then come from the fact that Conor knows that he doesn't truly love the woman.

The second verse happens first. This woman drove all night to see Conor to make her declaration of love for him. His response is the first verse. He tries to feel what she felt and he thinks that he does. He thinks he feels like he woke up and sees the world anew.

At the end of the song, he says, "I'd rather be working for a paycheck then waiting to win the lottery," which to me is the most depressing admission of reluctant acceptance ever. He sees her not as a winning lottery ticket, but a paycheck. She is a boring day job that you hate and you push through because it gives you a steady paycheck and that's what you need to survive.

One could argue that it's still a sweet love song, because he's abandoning unrealistic fantasizing for something real. Sure. 

But let's just say that Conor is no longer with the person who this song is written about.

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