Saddle Creek | Bright Eyes | Reviews


I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

02/10/2005 | Journal and Courier | Album Review
David Lowery, the lead singer of Cracker, once sang "What the world needs now is another folk singer, like I need a hole in my head." Lowery was speaking about angst toward the popular music scene, but more importantly, he was talking about how so many things keep being rehashed and what people really need is originality.

Conor Oberst, the lead singer of Bright Eyes, because of his writing ability and simple, acoustic folky songs, will immediately draw comparisons to Bob Dylan. At 24 years old, he speaks with an air of understanding. But he is not simply rehashing feel-good folk songs from the '60s. And he is very original.

Oberst's record, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, is a heartfelt collection of 10 songs that speak of life, and loss, America and freedom and little yellow birds.

His voice is not the prettiest, by far. He sounds like a hybrid of Elliott Smith and Jeff Tweedy, with an occasional Isaac Brock lisp. But his words are some of the best-crafted lyrics to be written in this decade.

The record begins with Oberst telling a story, which he segues into the first track on the record, "At the Bottom of Everything."

Immediately, because of this, the album takes on a very intimate feel, like one gets at a concert in a small, smoky bar, with very few patrons and a lot of sorrows.

The song is an immediate attack on the race for wealth that has preoccupied the entire world.

"We must blend into the choir, sing as static with the whole," he sings. "We must memorize nine numbers and deny we have a soul. And in the race for property and privilege to be won, we must run, we must run, we must run."

It's not the last time Oberst gets political on the record. He has a lot of anti-war sentiments and ideas, which stretch right back to the hippy era. But his music resides in more of an alt-country format than a folk style.

The comparisons to Dylan can be drawn, however, in that prior to Oberst, few have written condemnations of war as scathing.

It's apparent in "Landlocked Blues," the strongest track on the album with a sound reminiscent of Woody Guthrie. Oberst sings, "We made love on the living room floor. With the noise in the back of a televised war... And the whole world must watch the sad comic display. If you're still free, start running away. Because we're coming for you." Anti-war sentiments come up again in "Road to Joy," a song that takes the main melody from the Beethoven composition "Ode to Joy."

Oberst doesn't just have it together when it comes to writing against war. In "First Day of My Life," he delivers the most introspective and honest song about falling in love to be written in this era of spinning tire rims and misogynistic romance.

Emmylou Harris sings on three tracks, just another sign of Oberst's status; only 24 years old, and already playing alongside legends.

He'd better get used to it.

Rating: 4 out of four