For Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, depression is a catalyst. Oberst doesn’t just broadcast the pain of suffering from depression, but the confusion the drugs used to treat it can create. He shares the feelings of helplessness, undesired dependency, and the inability to heal your own mind in a world so misunderstanding of mental illness. His bruised lyrics and nervous, staccato voice ripple across the surface of the melodic guitar/drums/organ surface of the music. “Don’t you do what I want you to / Don’t degrade yourself the way I do / Because you don’t depend upon all the shit that I use / To make my moods improve.”
Oberst explains the mundane existence living with depression is. “Hold your sadness like a puppet / Just keep putting on the play,” he screams passionately in “Sunrise, Sunset” about going through the motions. And yes, he even incorporates the refrain “Sunrise, sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof into the song representing the sluggish routine life has become.
In a pseudo interview that appears on Fevers and Mirrors, Oberst attempts to spell out some of the metaphors used in his lyrics. The clocks, the calendars, the mirrors… But there are also repeated themes throughout the recording. Obsession, depression, death…but don’t make the mistake that Fevers and Mirrors is merely downcast. There is a lot of hope and beauty that shine through the gloominess. The album consciously contradicts itself pretty often. Actually, it’s might just be Conor. “A lot of things are really unclear for me right now,” Oberst squeaks out during the scripted interview.
Through this Prozac-induced confusion, Oberst comes through with a strong amount of irony. Lines from “You Are My Sunshine” come through eerily in the intense “The Calendar Hung Itself….” And almost satirically, a jingleized version of the theme to The Partridge Family television show (“C’mon Get Happy”) radiates through the somber lyrics in a montage of television channel changing.
It is rare to find music with this degree of expression, this much personal depth. It doesn’t take much for people to crumble, both emotionally and physically. Fevers and Mirrors is a record of the fragility of human beings, how one small event could cause an emotional landslide.