Throughout the last few years, Conor Oberst has been praised as America's next great songwriter, the next Bob Dylan, and an assortment of other praises and hyperboles. Although I tend to disagree with some of the columnists and critics who claim these things, I also tend to agree that Conor is a truly great songwriter. Lifted or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
, released in 2002, was praised by critics for the huges, ambitious arrangements, lines upon lines of fantastic, metaphorical (and simple) lyrics, and his shaky, yet emotive voice. Some people believe that Bright Eyes is pure hype, and has no musical quality or talent.
Now, it is 2005, and Bright Eyes released two albums that are polar opposites, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
. I'm Wide Awake..
is stripped down folk album, to put it very plainly. Many songs feature only Conor and an acoustic guitar, while others are bubbling with lap steel, electric guitars, piano/organ, horns, and Emmylou Harris on backing vocals (If you're going to call him the next Dylan, why not have her?). The simplicity itself sets the album far apart from the grandious Lifted..
, and is probably one of my favorite acoustic/folk albums.
I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
is, basically, the recollections of when Conor had first moved to New York and the experiences and feelings that he had. The album gives off a very warm feeling, and is a very Autumn/Winter album. It consists of mostly slow ballads, with some of them staying in their dark, depresseive state, and some becoming very uplifting and almost happy sounding. The upbeat, somewhat faster songs are few and far between, those being "At the Bottom of Everything," "Another Travelin' Song," and "Road to Joy". Although the songs are faster and more upbeat, they are also some of the songs that tend to lack what the ballads seem to offer plenty of, but I can't really put my finger on it. They are still fun to listen to and tap your foot, though.
"Lua" just so happens to be one of my favorite Bright Eyes songs. Conor performs the song solo, with just himself and an acoustic guitar. He sings in a very shaken, yet seemingly tired and depressed tone. It depicts two lovers going out and party, and getting so wasted that they don't recognize each other anymore. The character maeks promises, but doesn't promise not to break them. The song itself is extremely depressing to listen, with lyrics like "I know you have a heavy, I can feel it when we kiss, so many men have thrown there backs out trying to lift". I can't help but think that this is the best Bright Eyes song yet, but I then remind myself of some other songs. Another slow song that happens to be a highlight of the album is "Train Under Water". Although the song is fairly slow, it seems more joyous and happy then the others. The song bubbles with melody, with harmonica and some electric guitar playing, and is one of the longer songs on the album.
The rest of the album is also very slow, and once agian, depressing, with the exception of the standard song about touring, "Another Travelin' Song". Indeed, it is just another travelin' song, and is a fair letdown that interrupts the near-perfect flow of the album. As you would expect, the pace doesn't hold up, and the album gets slow and depressing once again. Although it seems like this album may be a angst-ridden emo whining, it's not. It's one of the more mature works Bright Eyes has put out, and it shows in most of the songs. I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
ends on the rather angry and seething "Road to Joy". As you may suspect, the song takes the melody from "Ode to Joy," but there are some variations to it. The song's political attack is rather obtuse, with referances to war on television, and so on. Some of the lyrics are fantastic, though, and Conor's voice is the most jagged I have heard. With the cry of "*** it up boys, make some noise1" the song becomes chaotic, and is a good ending to the album, but not perfect. I still think "Lets Not *** Ourselves" is unbeatable, as an ending to a Bright Eyes album.
Overall, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
is an excellent acoustic/folk album, but not without its flaws. Conor's lyrical approach, and musical approach, have changed somewhat since the huge Lifted or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
, and is definately a good reminder that you don't have to make the same record twice to make a great record.