Reviews

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Paul Curry
02/12/2005 | Louisville Courier Journal | Album Review
There can be little doubt that Conor Oberst is the voice of his generation; he has all of the right earmarks: sensitivity, rage, an incisive perspective and etc. We can certainly put him in the same company as Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Stipe, Kurt Cobain and etc.
With a half-dozen records under his belt (not counting a compilation of singles and a Christmas album), the 24-year-old Omaha, Neb., native has certainly lived up to his early "boy genius" notices. "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning," released under Oberst's Bright Eyes alter ego, is the first of two simultaneously released new records. The other, "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn," is supposedly more "band-oriented."
Genre-wise, Oberst is as dusty and dry as alt-country/Americana gets. He introduces the album with a little story about people on an airplane realizing that they are about to crash. The first song, "At the Bottom of Everything," is a twisted bit of mortality recognition, littered with references to the grotesque and mundane. The rest of the record follows in tight footsteps. There is a sense of exhilaration throughout, a constant discovery that this is it. IT!
Oberst's vocals quiver as if with terminal nervousness, as if this beautiful mess of life is too much, just too much! Ultimately, that's OK, however, because the album's arrangements are sweet! Some tracks are stripped down to the basics. "First Day of My Life" is just bass, guitar and drums. "Lua" is a solo perfomance where Oberst sounds like Paul Westerberg's little brother upping the ante.
Elsewhere, we find pedal steel, trumpet, harmonica, mandolin, piano, organ and vibraphone. The presence of Emmylou Harris and Louisville's Jim James singing backup (she on three tracks, he on one) is maybe a bit of overkill, but no harm no foul, right?
Even with the elaborate arrangements, however, the songs always seem to find an intense, quiet intimacy. Oberst has come a long way since making "Lifted, Or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground," which boasted an uneven lo-fi vs. studio approach. "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" has no such drawback. It's as if Oberst has stepped up to the plate, knowing he needed to knock it out of the park. At that point, what would you expect from the voice of a generation? There was never any doubt.


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