Review Summary: Open, liberated, effortless; a masterpiece.
Do you feel sorry for Conor Oberst? So he's a prominent songwriter touring the world and playing music for a living, but do you feel sorry for him? On the one hand, the albums he's released under the Bright Eyes moniker are riddled with moments of misery and unease; he seems constantly to be working through some sort of trauma, whether that be lost love, death or loneliness, and you've got to assume from the sincerity and fragile delivery that a lot of what he writes is deeply personal. But on the other hand, he's one of the very few human beings capable of articulating those emotions on a level to which others can relate, and that would seem to imply it should also help him
somewhat too. So the real question is whether the ability to describe and understand what you're going through numbs some of that pain.
I hope it does, because records like Fevers & Mirrors
, as well as being among the most depressing in Oberst's catalogue, are up there with the more heartbreaking records ever produced. It seems strange, doesn't it, the idea of opening up every part of your identity and your feelings to an audience of strangers? Even songs about fictional characters lend themselves to a sense of gritty realism when injected with lyrical nuance. So up to 2005 everything in the Bright Eyes discography carried with it an unshakable weight, a claustrophobia best summed up by Fevers & Mirrors but also carried through numerous other records in plentiful measure – not always without a hint of self-awareness, but certainly something better taken in small doses and kept away from children.
So perhaps the reason I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
manages to transcend the usual parameters of Bright Eyes' sound is its very first track. At The Bottom Of Everything
begins in typical opening fashion with a spoken-word section performed as a conscious introduction to the song instead of a background crackle. It's a story about a naïve and innocent girl whose aeroplane is about to crash, and Oberst and reality are truly nowhere to be found until his ironic quips on conformity come in over a folksy acoustic guitar; it's life-affirming and its verse-chorus structure continues just long enough to hit really hard.
At 45 minutes, Morning
is easily the shortest LP of the prominent trio and is better because of it. No song outstays its welcome or gets lost in narrative; the statements are succinct and beautiful, the instrumental sections never drag on and Oberst knows when to wrap a song up and move on. Fortunately, he also appreciates when a song has the steam to keep building, as proven by Land Locked Blues
, which might be his most accomplished piece of lyricism yet and whose incorporation of brass, piano and a building urgency in the guitars bring the track to a breathtaking climax alongside poetry about compromise which grows in ambition as the song progresses.
If you walk away, I'll walk away. First, tell me which road you will take; I don't want to risk our paths crossing someday, so you walk that way, I'll walk this way.
Yeah, he's still got that bite to his words that will likely never go away; a habit of seeing metaphors and contradictions in the smallest things, and a way of making them seem so obvious and earth-shatteringly important. But Morning
also manages to maintain some degree of optimism throughout too, as is obvious to anybody who's heard First Day Of My Life
. It stands as probably the most radio-friendly song the band have ever released and by way of its chirpy picked acoustic guitars, upbeat rhythm and ever-so-cute lyrics. It's simply a love song, and it's a tribute to Oberst that he probably sounds at his most vulnerable when he's happy.
It takes a bit of a step back to realise it, but it's easily the most consistent and impressive album that Bright Eyes have ever released, and perhaps ever will do. Granted, there are different aesthetic qualities to most of their LPs, and you won't find in Morning
as much of the suffocated angst of Fevers
or the grandiose intrigue of Lifted
, but this record houses at least five of the best songs Oberst has ever written and flows effortlessly through ten varied and powerful tracks; the anthemic last two minutes of Poison Oak
are a far cry from the understated melancholy of Lua
but they're both equally important and equally brilliant. I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
exists as an open, liberated masterpiece with all the emotion Oberst is capable of and heaps of pop songwriting ability to boot. But more than that, it's 45 minutes of music that allow you to be absolutely nowhere, and the time to just be now. Don't feel sorry for Conor Oberst. He'll be just fine.
Well I could have been a famous singer, if I had someone else's voice, but failure always sounded better – let's f**k it up boys, make some noise.