Who would’ve thought Conor Oberst was in a punk band? His work with Bright Eyes is the portrait of a man who needs a hug. Listen to his work with Desaparecidos and you’ve got a man who will take you out for drinks to talk political views, all while plotting the next big riot. You don’t expect to head bang to the same voice who sang “Land Locked Blues.” It may sound strange, but it’s good.
As with the majority of punk music, this album is heavily political. With a name like Payola, what else do you expect? A lot of the subject matter is deeply personal, while covering a broader topic at the same time. On “The Underground Man,” Oberst tells the story of a friend whose left wing views were crushed when he joined the military—clouding his judgment with benefits and propaganda. The song then goes into attacking the country and how it is run, touching on everything from the two-party system to the clouded speeches politicians hide behind in order to make their actions seems less scary.
In “Radicalized”, Oberst does a good job of relaying his feelings about how we no longer know who to trust, who to believe, and which side to align with. Both political parties lie to get us roped in. Tracks such as “City On The Hill” and “The Left Is Right” are riot anthems aimed at a corrupt society. They also have a melodic quality to them, which is slightly unorthodox for punk music. In fact, the entire album is cleverly melodic, while giving the edge that gives off an angry feel. The entire album drones political views, but more eloquently than most punk albums. It probably has something to do with the front man being Oberst of all people. His voice gives the edge this music deserves, but it still sounds good. This is a plus all over the board. The expert musicality of each musician is also clearly shown, with riffs and beats soaring, thrashing, and softening throughout. It’s a truly beautiful experience.
Payola is more than a punk album. The more you listen to it, the less you want to give it that label. It transcends the stereotype that loud music and angry political views must be hard to listen to. It’s hard not to feel enjoyment from hearing the voice that helped you through all those teary nights when you thought you’d never love again, only this time you want to protest and riot.