I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
And really, it's my own fault. I set myself up for disappointment when the two new Bright Eyes albums arrived on my desk. People my age aren't supposed to be pretentiously prolific; we're supposed to wallow in the greatness of those more experienced than us. But Conor Oberst has thus far made a career of being as prolific as he wants to be. Bright Eyes quickly became an indie darling and won the respect of Rolling Stone magazine with his last release Lifted or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground. (How's that for a title? I told you he was pretentious).
And now this. Not only has Bright Eyes released two albums on the same day (see my Digital Ash In A Digital Urn review), but being the showy artiste he is, one of them starts with a monologue. A monologue! Didn't anybody tell Conor that Tom Waits and Johnny Cash are the only two people that can start out an album with talking? And the fact that the dialogue is so mundane doesn't really help. Good. I thought for sure I'd hate this record. Just as planned.
Of course, when the muted strumming began as Conor finished his story, and the band launched into "At The Bottom Of Everything," I realized that I was a fool for making my conclusion so hastily. The opening track of Wide Awake, It's Morning is a great song, and honestly, so are most of the songs on the album.
Conor Oberst is not a great singer – he sounds like a less-experienced Elliott Smith and like he's nervous around a microphone. On most of Wide Awake the talented musicians he surrounds himself with – and there are way too many to mention here - assist him in making the music great. But his lyrics are well-written, and that's his saving grace. Even when songs are pared down to just voice and guitar, as on "Lua," we are drawn to them like words from the mouth of a prophet.
The album clearly draws upon a country vibe and many of the lyrics and musical elements build upon both vintage and alternative country. "We Are Nowhere And It's Now" begins with one of the greatest opening couplets for a country song ("If you hate the taste of wine/But you drink it 'til you're blind") and contains harmony vocals from Emmylou Harris (how's that for lucky? He got the great country harmonizer to sing harmony on his record!)
There isn't a single bad song on I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, but at times the album sounds derivative. On certain tracks, Bright Eyes runs the gamut of being called the "new Dylan." Of course, "new Dylan" is a double-edged sword, as many up-and-coming singer-songwriters have realized over the years. It speaks towards lyrical brilliance but also exhausting a form mastered by just one man. "First Day Of My Life" seems to recall "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" in particular.
Most of the songs on I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning are low-key and soothing, which is good if you're in the mood for that, but grows tiresome after a while. Luckily songs like "Another Travelin' Song" are there to pick up the pace and are placed at the perfect moments.
Conor Oberst may be a pretentious singer-songwriter, but he's a damned good one that I'm sure we'll be hearing about for quite some time. I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning convinced me of that. Maybe it'll convince you too?
LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3