35.) Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (2005)
Conor Oberst seems like he might be a pissant. I don't think I've ever used that term before but as I sit here thinking about him, that was the one that came into my head. His early records as Bright Eyes were spotty, heart-on-his sleeve affairs from a kid who was told by everyone he was a genius. He's a good songwriter on those records, especially on Fevers and Mirrors, but he's not great. But, if you want to find Conor Oberst the great songwriter look no further then I'm Wide Awake It's Morning.
As Oberst gets on in years, it seems as though he's taking himself less and less seriously. He's finally having a semblance of fun. I'm Wide Awake finds him somewhere in the middle. The proverbial happy medium between pretentious pissant and fun musician who travels the world and plays music with his buds. The suit fits well. I'm Wide Awake starts with "At the Bottom of Everything", but it really starts with a story about a woman about to die in a plane crash and how her fellow passenger, in order to make her smile, sings her the song. It's pretty heavy stuff, but for the first time in Bright Eyes history, you can hear Oberst smiling through the song. That happens a lot on I'm Wide Awake. It's the record that finally found Oberst shedding that seriousness, where he allowed himself to find joy in what he was doing, even when the material was a bit dour.
the result is Oberst's best record. It's truly a classic. What's stunning about it is how lived in it feels. I'm Wide Awake could have been released next to a Dylan record and no one would bat an eye. The record is not rock 'n roll and it's not country. I guess it's a folk record, but even that's limited. It's Americana. It's warm and you want to pore over it. These songs never get old, they just get better and "Lua" could very well be the best Bright Eyes song ever written. It's a perfect example of Oberst being a completely great songwriter. The attention to detail in the lyrics, the spare arrangement - my man can create a mood and that last lyrics "what was simple in the moonlight by the morning never is" is something special.
Then there's the MVP of I'm Wide Awake - Emmylou Harris. What a brilliant choice on Oberst's part to have her on hand, especially in "Land Locked Blues". Her world weariness sets the tone for those songs and allows Oberst to realize what I presume he set out to do - make a timeless record that sounds old, but also brand new. It's a spectacular feat and a beautiful record.
Posted by Pat Driscoll