Music Reviews
I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Bright Eyes I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

(Saddle Creek) Rating - 9/10

I forgive Conor Oberst his flaws. That's a conscious choice that the more cynical or less generous among you might not be willing to make. For instance, Mr. Oberst has a habit of kicking off his albums with odd "field recordings" whose artistic purpose or connection with his music completely eludes me. I suppose I could conjure up some explanation through a laborious exercise of critical Twister, but I'd rather just assume he thinks they sound cool. He's at it again on I'm Wide Awake, Its Morning. It starts off with Conor telling some silly anecdote about a doomed airplane as backstory for the first song. Why am I forgiving Conor his obvious, undergrad-emo, pretensions? Because this is a young man who is still finding his way and, with this new album, has just taken a significant step in the right direction. And just as Springsteen gradually whittled down his lyrical excesses to arrive at perfection in Nebraska's Highway Patrolman, I'm gambling on Oberst learning from his mistakes, taking some knocks, and discovering the value of direct expression. Wide Awake offers glimpses of this impending breakthrough.

The model for this outing is probably the best value CD purchase you can make; Gram Parsons' two for the price of one GP/Grievous Angel. He's even got harmony chanteuse extraordinaire Emmylou Harris singing backup! Her work with Parsons ranks with the great all-time male/female pairings, and Oberst scored an amazing coup getting her for Wide Awake. Furthermore, Bright Eyes has gone all out alt-country on this one, taking their cues from the man who started the whole genre in the first place. This is clearly the idiom Oberst is most comfortable with, as his less successful electronic foray demonstrates. So this album plays to his strengths, and with Parsons as an inspiration he delivers his best album yet.

I don't put much stock in rock lyrics (see Robert Christgau's famous essay Rock Lyrics are Poetry (Maybe)) and I'm just as content singing 'goo goo g'joob' as 'parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme', as long as the tune is decent. So whenever anyone drops a good line on me I'm pleasantly surprised. Here, Oberst takes care of what should always be the first priority, writing good music. This gets you humming along so that when he drops a bombshell of momentary brilliance you're ready to accept it. The finest moments occur when he tangentially addresses the current imperialist environment in the US. Old Soul Song (For the New World Order) struggles to come to terms with 9/11 hoping in vain that a camera, like a bible, might hold some truth. Another sublime tidbit occurs in Land Locked Blues as he sings "if you're still free start running away, cause were comin' for ya", then breaking the calm acoustic strum with a military fanfare. Road to Joy is Bright Eyes' masterpiece, with fantastic lines like "my parents have their religion, but sleep in separate houses", and a superb performance from the band as well as Conor's most controlled yet tortured vocal yet. Just listen to him shout "we don't know how all of this got started, but we're gonna make goddamn certain how its gonna end!" This frail, emo singer donning the guise of a fascist is truly chilling, and when the band rocks out for the finale you are left confused and exhilarated.

Who could ask for anything more? This is the best album of the year so far.