on April 21, 2005
So many of the negative reviews here seem to center around people's distaste for the media hype that surrounds this kid. What this has to do with the music he creates is of little relevance to me. I try and listen to music with an unbiased ear. It seems to me that most people came to this album with a certain prejudice, and that's a shame. Reading through these reviews makes me feel really out of touch with the pop music scene, and it also makes me glad that I am. I had never heard of Bright Eyes or Connor Oberst, and bought the cd because it showed up on my "amazon recommends" list. I had no real expectations for the cd, but I always "try to like" any cd that I spend my hard-earned money on. Well, I didn't have to try very hard to like it. The cd is full of beautiful songs. The lyrics, which have been described by some as "whiny," might not suit everyone's tastes, and that's fine. But thank God music is about more than lyrics, it's about how those lyrics fit into the context of the song and Connor O. seems to understand that concept. I understand the comparisons to Dylan, even if I don't fully agree with them (Gram Parsons might be a closer match - though Emmylou's voice might be influencing my ear in that comparison). There is a similarity to the way both Dylan and Oberst phrase their lyrics, and both employ lyrical metaphor to great effect. But the main similarity is that they both have a remarkable way of conveying raw emotion in seemingly simple songs.
In short, I generally read one-star and 5-star reviews with an extreme grain of salt so I was reluctant to give this cd a 5-star rating. However, it's the best cd I've bought in a long time and to give it anything less than 5 stars would be disingenous.
I'll admit it, right off: at first I just didn't get Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes). I was either too common or too evolved to buy into his thing, whatever it was and is. Many have boasted that he is a genius, and as many others have convicted him a pretentious fraud. Without a doubt, the first songs I heard grew on me and I liked him. I didn't get him, but I liked the music. I exposed myself to more and then started feeling a little duped. There was a rambling quality to his songs: a little over-wordy. And then I felt the emotions he was conveying were a bit forced- as if he were trying too hard. I lost my ambition to know his music better.
Then, serendipitously, I saw him perform on Austin City Limits. Somehow, what couldn't be translated through my headphones became palpable as I watched and listened. There was an intensity I had previously missed that was all too there as I watched him sweat out the songs before an audience. The passion stuck inside me like a sweet and toxic glue and I found myself infected for life. Now I listen to every song as an afflicted man. I innately "get it" and I absolutely love it.
If you can see Bright Eyes, then you'll truly hear him and thus, feel him. That's how I "see" it. And that's how I got it. Look, I was one who lamented the rise of video music, feeling it detracted from the purity of what music is all about, but this is not about video. It's about connecting the person to his or her songs. Who can deny that seeing the Beatles impacts one as much as hearing the Beatles does?
There's a reason many of us go out of the way to see our favorite artists live. Instinctively, we know there is something elemental to watching them play the songs that come from their souls. We must hear AND see the fire to feel the fire. And Bright Eyes is on fire here.
on February 16, 2005
I am among the many people who read, specially preceding this album's release, much about Oberst's talent before listening to what he has to offer here.
In general, passionate praise for a new musician -particularly when compared to legends like Dylan- has a negative effect on me. I'm more likely to grow skeptical and doubt their value than embracing them, blinded by positive reviews. "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" is an absolute exception to my usual incredulity. I must say I was deeply gratified to see that it lived up to the hype.
I would still not compare him to Dylan -to me, one of the greatest American songwriters who ever lived- yet there are other talented people who do come to mind, with whom reasonable comparisons can be made.
Most recently, in terms of remarkable new voices, Ryan Adams comes to mind. Like Adams, Oberst already shows a depth of feeling beyond his years, and a breadth of musical interests that are beyond average. It does not hurt either, although it would not establish a parallel, that Emmylou Harris offered his voice to both artists' recordings, I think too highly of Ms. Harris to assume that she'd agree to sing here for any other reason than admiration for this young man's songs.
This album is incredibly mature, both musically and lyrically. It is clearly the work of someone who feels deeply the high and low moments of being alive -then again, most people do- what I'm impressed about is that it does not deteriorate into an emotional private diary, which although meaningful to the person writing it, usually holds very little value to the rest of us.
Songs like "We Are Nowhere And It's Now" and "Old Soul Song (For The New World Order)" -both with Emmylou Harris in vocals- are stunning examples of this guy's talent. Moving, emotionally daring, and wise enough to mean something personal to the listener.
"Train Under Water," "Landlocked Blues" and "Road To Joy" are also great tunes, showing that this guy has assimilated his influences fully, and already sound like himself, rather than offering merely reminders of other, more established people. And then there is "Lua" ... what an extraordinary song! This is one of the most vulnerable, yet wise songs about a break up that I heard in a long time. Oberst manages to show the pain, risk remaining innocent, and yet craft a piece that should mean something to everyone who's ever been in love. This song alone, and I know it may sound rather an abused line, it's enough to justify getting this album.
I had already liked earlier albums by Bright Eyes and sensed that there was a talented musician behind it, yet this CD has more than confirmed it.
It is exquisite and imperfect, the way life is, and when someone is as courageous and talented as Oberst is -to talk about it- it is nothing less than a gift. "Wide Awake, It's Morning" is one of those gifts.
on February 6, 2005
"Land Lock Blues" sounded way better when it was called "One Foot In Front of the Other" off of the Saddle Creek 50 Compilation. That has been one of my favorite Bright Eyes songs since the first time I heard it. I wish he had not re-recorded it with Emmylou Harris. This album definitely has more of a polished feel than previous albums, which isn't a good thing in my mind. Those 2 complaints being said, I think the album is fantastic. A lot of great songs: "We Are Nowhere And It's Now", "Lua", "Another Travellin' Song", and "Poison Oak" are particular favorites. I would add "Landlocked Blues" but I'm still adjusting to the new version. If you are new to Bright Eyes, I would start with Lifted... or Fevers & Mirrors. This is a very good album, but not Conor's best work.
on December 23, 2005
If you don't like Bright Eyes, if you utterly despise his take on life, cannot stomach his long-winded narrated lyrics, or let a single monotone note from his whiskey breath echo in your ears for more than 10 seconds, I can respect that.
But if you do not like this album because as of the Post-Lifted era he has shown his face on a multitude of magazine covers and has even become, dare I say it, a scene-kid favorite and even has the audacity to spawn clones of himself through-out the nation, then you could quite possibly be suffering from a variation of scenesterism yourself. You know, the kind where you hate everything that you used to like just because they've become discovered and a few more new faces are appearing at the artist's shows. I cannot respect that, and that is not a good reason to give a poor rating on a five star album to scare away potential fans.
Now for the official review. Why is this album worthy of five stars? I haven't written any reviews for his previous albums, though I've been a huge Bright Eyes fan since I was a freshmen in college(I am now a senior), but I can tell you now they each are five star worthy. "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" falls under the folk/americana genre as opposed to his previous efforts which tend to fall under a more "singer-songwriter folk" which was more solo work and lo-fi production. The thing that grabs me about "I'm Wide Awake..." is his honest, personal lyrics which are practically a journal of his stranger in a strange-land nights walking unsoberly along the streets of Manhattan. Listening to this album makes me feel like Conor lived in Nebraska in his parent's home his whole life and then decided to run away to the big city and amplify his success there, but then realizing that Manhattan is not only big, but it's the real world. Conor is young and scared, and most of all he's a stranger to the city, and the lyrics are not reluctant to express this. So what does Conor do? Seemingly, he brought his Nebraskan roots to New York City and he churned out a perfectly excellent Americana album with a personal account of Manhattanite life.
Honestly, I can see why people would not like Conor's almost monotone and at times, shaky as hell voice. Some people see it as indie and emotional, other people seem to think it ruins the music; it stands as the dividing line. But this is my personal review as somebody who has been a fan for some time now and has watched him grow up via his music, every album being a new chapter in his life and a new level of maturity... Folks, I must say, this is as good as music gets.
on May 11, 2006
A few things:
A) Whoever compared Bright Eyes to Bob Dylan did them a tremendous disservice. These guys are great, but they aren't Bob Dylan. They don't have his skills in songwriting, and they don't have the same soul as him. Neither should they, necessarily.
B) The CD is good, regardless of "talent." In cases like these, where the artists' topics are so personal, no one has to have crazy talents. Bright Eyes makes me feel good when I listen to them. Their lyrics make me think at times. Their guitar chords are pleasant and can move me.
I don't know what people are looking for, but this CD makes me feel cool when I listen to it.
on January 8, 2006
The CD starts out with a bit of spoken word that artists usually utter to introduce a song. A little about the history of the song, the events that happened before. Maybe it's a fitting start to an album that has lyrics like words people would read in a diary or say to each other early in the morning. But now it's so fitting here.
Bright Eyes sounds folkier in this song than ever. Kinda like the Mermaid Avenue albums by Billy Bragg and Wilco. Some of the words also remind me of Bob Dylan, someone he has often been compared with. But he is not just a clone, he definitely has his own sound.
He was helped on this album by none other then Emmylou Harris who sings along in the beautiful waltz 'We Are Nowhere and It's Now'. Her part may not be big on the song, but it's a welcome addition. Her part is more important on the amazing 'Landlocked Blues', one of the highlights of this album.
The lyrics have certainly improved since earlier BE work. 'Old Soul Song' is so far one of the best songs I have heard about 9-11. Him waking up hearing a soul song on the radio and then explaining what he sees walking up 40 blocks. Dust, people, police, pieces of glass. He is now really good at just singing about what he sees and feels in the morning. New York and being lonely in New York seems to be a theme of this album too. How many people would feel moving from the countryside to a big city, a city that lost something then too.
Connor Oberst is certainly not a renewer of the indie/singer-songwriter/folk genre. People like Will Oldham (Bonnie Prince Billy), Badly Drawn Boy or the Mountain Goats have maybe made better albums and better songs. However, Connor Oberst, has written songs on this album that are very close to the American teen/twentysomething feelings of loneliness and despair. His voice may sometimes be a little over the top shaky but it's not something for my anymore that makes me not want to listen anymore. Let's face it, Dylan and Neil Young weren't good singers too, but recognizable.
Where on earlier albums the instruments also were as much off as his voice this has changed. It's now a well produced album that sounds great. There is some great additions of trumpets for example.
Earlier Bright Eyes CD's have usually dissappointed me because of the incoherence sometimes, certainly not the case here. One of the best albums of 2005. If he goes on making albums like this, he has a chance to become a Dylan or Springsteen.
This is easily one of the best new-folk albums of the last decade. Loaded with imagistic lyrics and social commentary, Conor Oberst shows why those "New Dylan" tags have been lobbed at him by critics probably old enough to be his grandpa. There are plenty of story-songs here, from the spoken word introduction to "At The Bottom Of Everything" to the stunning current event lyric, "we made loveon the living room floor with the noise in the background to a televised war." In an age where protest songs are few and far between (and seem to only come from elder statesmen like Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen or Steve Earle), it's refreshing to hear someone sing about something other than bling and beyatches.
I would probably not be so quick with the Dylan comparisons. I'd probably be more apt to call Oberst kin to Gram Parsons or Jackson Browne, where confessional lyricism was more the point of the song. I also take issue with the emo tag connected to Bright Eyes albums by underage metalheads without the maturity to make the distinction. This is folk music in the seventies sense, maybe a bit more stripped down but still a close cousin to "Late For The Sky" or James Taylor's "Mud Slide Slim." "I'm Wide Awake It's Morning" belongs on the same pantheon as those albums, even with the age difference.
I've also been lucky enough to see Oberst play (in a song circle with Jim James - wow - and M.Ward -eh) at the 2005 Newport Folk Festival. Far from a gallery of screaming teenaged girls that some of the more virulent negative reviews would lead you to think are his core audience, Oberst captivated a huge ADULT crowd of concert goers. The songs from "I'm Wide Awake It's Morning" resonated with this crowd with the same rapport the audience shared with other acts that weekend, including such stalwarts as Arlo Guthrie and Nanci Griffith. They are the kind of company young Conor is peer to. Although this CD came out in 2005, it still gets strong rotation in my stereo.
on April 20, 2005
This album, like the other Bright Eyes records from the last couple of years, is a big messy masterpiece that occasionally reaches too far or hits a note that clinks. But Thank God - or whomever. It's exhilarating and mind blowing and we need more artists willing to jump so high they can fall hard.
It always amazes me someone like Bright Eyes gets such mixed reviews, while lukewarm commercial test tube bred music like Taking Back Sunday gets magazine covers and critical free passes. Compared to the unpolished genius of Bright Eyes, almost everything else we call Indy these days seems canned and sterile. Say what you want about it, but this is real, warts and all. Everything else seems constructed in a record company back room and ironed out flat so as to not offend. We fault Conor Obsest for his occasional pretense and then put the Killers on the cover of Spin Magazine with their skinny ties and coy boy model gazes and call them "original" and "refreshing".
I am reminded of reviews I read once of Apocolypse Now and The Conversation, both Coppolla films. Apocolypse Now was criticized for having too many ideas, for being too long, for having raw performances, for being messy and a little insane, for leaving in the film some of the more dangerous and weird moments.... in short, for breaking the rules. The Conversation was counted the better film, in this particular analysis, for it's excellent script and great performances. Faiir enough, but there is no way The Conversation is in the same ball park as Apocolypse Now as work of film. The Conversation was an excellent, competent movie. Apocolypse Now was mind blowing, something that transcends film. Extra credit has to be given just for the attempt.
I feel the same way seeing people tear Bright Eyes apart while giving music that is much simpler and less ambitious good marks, as if Oberst should be given hell because he actually tries... as if we all really want our artists to pack it in and just go work with the marketing department on their next record. Not that there isn't a certain amount of consumer manipulation in Bright Eyes as well... all our music is product these days. Perhaps always was, but there was a time it wasn't a point of pride.
Bright Eyes is excessive, emotional, occasonally pretentious or immature, but Bless him! I'll listen to anything by Conor Oberst, and this record is the record of the year... no real question. Nothing else I have heard this year is as far reaching and earnest and risky.
on November 16, 2005
Instead of trying to compare the record to Bob Dylan or Hawthorne Heights (where did that comparison come from anyway?) take it for what it is; a guy with a guitar singing some songs. Sure, you can call it Indie Rock if you want to. It's on an independent label, isn't it? I don't, however, understand where the Emo comparisons come from. It's not the screaming whiny drivel that Victory Records specializes in. "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" is to me more like a country-fried folk record, like the bastard love child of a young Paul Simon and Loretta Lynn. It's a breath of fresh air from the corporate-driven American music industry. Many people complain that Conor Oberst isn't an adept musician or a skilled vocalist, but since when was ability more important than the message?
It's true Mr. Oberst isn't a guitar virtuoso, but he gets the job done. Sometimes simplicity is best, and the melody is always more important than musical masturbation, this album is no exception. The melodies are well-crafted, and Oberst definitely proves himself to be a proficient songwriter. No, Mr. Oberst is not a classically trained vocalist. He's certainly not Pavarotti. Then again, neither were Dylan or Springsteen, but no one seemed to mind Dylan's nails-on-a-chalkboard voice once they heard what he had to say. Oberst's message is sometimes cryptic, sometimes blatantly obvious, and sometimes distorted by his smug satisfaction with his own wit, but he never falters from his story, which captures the tragedy of the desensitized American condition through the eyes of an innocent child from the Midwest.
It's true Mr. Oberst isn't the savior of rock music. Nor has be proven to be one of the greatest American songwriters. It's also true that he may not be the Bob Dylan of his generation. He may not even be as great of a guitarist as the seven-year-old son of a previous reviewer.
Then again, he never claimed to be.
Don't let the media turn you off to this record with their hype. It's definitely worth a listen, even if only for a change of pace.