You go through stages in your musical life. You may start out in youth by listening to pop, singing along into a hair brush in front of the mirror. Suddenly teenage angst rears its ugly head and punk rock enters your daily playlist with all its rebellion and anarchy. After getting rid of your anger you probably move on again to another genre, disco, hip-hop, blues, country, whatever. What I’m getting at is throughout your life different genres help you along the winding road and mean something special to you at that point in your life. This is the beauty of music and why we listen to it, creating memories and stirring emotions, whether it’s happiness, sadness, or anything in between.
I came across Bright Eyes at a time when I was starting to actually realise there was more out there than just the music itself. I was never that interested in lyrics, most of the indie or Britpop stuff I listened to in the 90s didn’t have the most insightful words to go with the songs. Yes, there were tonnes of catchy tracks around at the time, but most of the words could be felt to be secondary to the tune itself, not really stretching the imagination and relying on tired clichés.
I felt I wanted more. Once again I was in a transitional period and so set out to find something to feed the next stage of my musical hunger. This is when I came across the band Bright Eyes and listened to album I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, and I couldn’t have asked for a better time for this to happen.
Not only are the lyrics clever, witty, heart warming or soul destroying, the music plays along with the themes perfectly. I’d arrived at a time when Bright Eyes had finally found the perfect sound to fit with lead singer Conor Oberst’s troubled soul. Conor himself had learned to create equilibrium between music and words, something that was harder for the band to do on earlier albums of which I later found out. Conor’s ability to write lyrics that are interpreted in different ways, his use of clever wordplay, and great knowledge of the English language create a heightened experience if you are willing to let yourself be swept away by both music and lyrics.
Starting off with the inventive At The Bottom Of Everything, the intro features Conor telling a story of a plane that’s about to crash through the perspective of a passenger, capturing the fears of this situation by regressing that passenger to childhood. At least that’s what I take from it, like mentioned before most songs are open to interpretation and the record welcomes the listener to do this throughout. Guitars and drums then kick in to create an instantly catchy song that would still be great without the clever wordplay. The album has a contemporary folk, country vibe throughout, and some of the slower acoustic led tracks break up the record beautifully with a great chance to listen to the vocals.
Lua is one of those acoustic songs; it manages to paint pictures in your mind so clear you wonder how it’s done. The track sees Conor in a contemplative mood, talking about life around New York and the heart ache that ensues, you almost feel like you’re there watching the story unfold, “and I know you have a heavy heart, I can feel it when we Kiss, So many men stronger than me have thrown their backs out trying to fix it”. Old Soul Song (For The New World Order) shows quality musicianship, building up into a feast for the ears through a mix of hooks and insightful words, “I stood nervous next to you in the dark room, you dropped the paper in the water and it all begins to bloom”. The emotion in Conors voice, though not liked by everyone, I think helps hold the music together. It feels as though he leaves a little bit of himself in every song and helps connect music and words. It must be hard to let yourself go so much but I suppose that’s what separates the great lyricists from the average.
First Day Of My Life has got to be up there as one of the great love songs. It doesn’t only talk about the happiness of love, but also the fear, the not knowing and the other emotions that go with it. This makes it a stronger track, and coupled with the fact it sounds so pretty and sweet, it’s no wonder it’s one of Bright Eyes most well known songs.
Road to Joy and Poison Oak touch sentimentally and politically towards troubles of the world, war and life changes. Road to Joy sees Conor toying with his critics by singing “I could have been a better singer if I had someone else’s voice”, and ending with a huge amalgamation of instruments, an intense album closer.
The great thing about the record is that it touches on a bit of everything and really tries to make you think, after a while it feels like something you can come back to when you feel a little fed up with the world and want reassurance that someone else feels the same. There’s always a lyric you can relate to if you’re down and that’s the beauty of it, you’re never alone when you listen to this album.
I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning is an album for people to find at a certain stage in their life. Once you’ve found it you’ll be hooked like I was and your next musical transition will be complete. A whole new world of lyrics was opened up to me by this album, and for that I thank Bright Eyes for creating such a wonderful musical stepping stone.