Reviews

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Zak Garner
02/15/2005 | University of Maryland Diamondback | Album Review
It's funny how fast an anti-establishment 24-year-old from Nebraska can become the talk of the music industry. But while the scenario may sound more like fodder for a David Bowie concept album, it certainly is true.

Case in point: Conor Oberst. Once the brains behind indie torchbearer Bright Eyes, the Midwest native is now a rock 'n' roll poster child.
Thanks to Oberst's less-glammed-than-Ryan Adams face planted on every music magazine in sight, his latest offerings, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and its sister album, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, have been the topic of conversation for inquiring minds for months.

While Digital Ash is Oberst's attempt at a produced, studio-oriented experimental album, I'm Wide Awake follows the path Oberst has been forging since his debut with Bright Eyes in 1998 and polishes the rough edges of 2002's indie hit, Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground.

Like many Bright Eyes songs, "At the Bottom of Everything" is filled with self-doubt and incorporates Oberst's ruminations on his own success: "Oh the city bus is swimming past/I'm happy just because I found out I am really no one."

Reminiscent of early Bob Dylan in both structure and word work, "Lua" begs for opportunity but accepts the facts. "Cause what is simple in the moonlight/By the morning never is," Oberst sings over a two-chord progression.

"Another Travelin' Song" is the only uptempo rocker on the album. Fittingly backed by screeching slide guitar and sunny female vocals, Oberst sings about attempting to hide one's futility.

He finally unleashes his trademark in-your-face pleading at the climax of album-closer "Road to Joy." "I'm wide awake/It's morning!" he yells over a raucous cacophony of guitars, horns and pounding drums.

It takes a few listens to soak up a Bright Eyes record. At first the simple arrangements seem mundane and Oberst's figurative language doesn't sink in. It is not until they have fully developed that his maturity as a songwriter and musician is apparent. But in an era where rock is fraught with self-aggrandizing showmen, it's reassuring to know some can still stand out by being brutally honest and critical of one's self.


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