Reviews

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Robin Edwards
01/29/2005 | Lakewood Spectator | Album Review
At only age 24, Conor Oberst, the leading man and only
permanent member of indie folk rock band Bright Eyes,
has already released nine albums since he started
recording at age 13, toured with R.E.M. and Bruce
Springsteen on the Vote for Change Tour, and has acted
as a depressed cult hero for his fans for years.

And that‚s not even to mention the number one and two
slots he filled on Billboard's Hot 100 Sales Chart
last November, the first artist since the
name-challenged P. Diddy to accomplish the feat. The
songs, Lua and Take it Easy (Love Nothing) are from
the latest Bright Eyes releases. For indie,
Omaha-based label Saddle Creek (co-founded by Oberst)
that carries Bright Eyes, Cursive, and The Faint, this
is extremely rare. It is also rare to find an artist
that sticks with his indie label, let alone one that
refuses to play at any Clear Channel owned venues, but
Oberst does both.

Jan. 25 brought Oberst‚s newest accomplishment˜the
double release of Bright Eyes‚ two new albums--I‚m
Wide Awake, It's Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital
Urn. Both albums are strikingly different, Wide Awake
taking on the more acoustic, folk feel of previous
albums like Lifted, and Digital Ash experimenting with
a more electronic and produced sound. As with
anything Oberst does, he brings his quivering, tragic
voice as well as the clever, dark lyrics that have
prompted critics to call him a young Bob Dylan.
Similar to other Bright Eyes releases, these are not
hopeful, lighthearted records to hear in a good mood.
Oberst is still angst-filled, depressed, and sometimes
frantic.

Wide Awake starts out, as many Bright Eyes CDs do,
with a strange spoken part, this time a story of a
woman on a crashing airplane, which leads into the
Dylan-like At the Bottom of Everything. All ten tracks
on the album are beautiful, personal, and genuine,
with the misery that dominates Bright Eyes. Oberst is
clearly in his element with his trembling voice
contrasted on lovely acoustic arrangements, and even
at some points a country twinge on a few tracks when
country star Emmylou Harris does guest vocals. The
single Lua is clearly one of the highlights of the
record, a sad song that paints a tragic picture of the
empty partying life with lyrics like "But me I‚m not a
gamble/you can count on me to split." Another stand
out on the album is the politically charged ballad
Land Locked Blues that not only denounces the Iraq war
but is also a lost love song. The final track Road to
Joy uses Beethoven‚s classic tune, but Oberst brings
his own lyrics and twists, making a powerful ending to
the CD with lines like "No one ever plans to sleep out
in the gutter/Sometimes that's just the most
comfortable place." Wide Awake is a beautiful addition
to the stack of previous Bright Eyes CDs, and is sure
to satisfy old Oberst fans as well as create new ones.

Digital Ash, on the other hand, is unique and hard to
compare with anything else. By far the best song on
the CD is Gold Mine Gutted, a nostalgic song whose
musical arrangement is a pleasure to listen to and
lyrics are as clever as ever with „Living the good
life I left for dead. Other highlights are the single
Take it Easy (Love Nothing) and the hopeless Hit The
Switch. For this album, Oberst enlists the help of
the Postal Service‚s Jimmy Tamborello and Yeah Yeah
Yeah‚s guitarist Nick Zinner. But among the
sometimes-beautiful sounds, the more produced sounds
sometimes detract from what‚s always been the real
star of Bright Eyes songs˜Oberst's emotional voice and
lyrics. Despite this, Digital Ash is still a great
record and deserves acclaim.

Again playing the part of the tortured artist, Conor
Oberst has brought two more successes to his list of
albums. This gifted songwriter will clearly be a
presence for years to come, and maybe with Bright Eyes
receiving some long-deserved critical praise, Oberst
will finally have something cheerful to sing about.


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