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Album Of The Decade According To Me: I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

The new decade is looming before us and so we arrive at the another turn of the screws, writers like me are left to access our memory banks. New Musical Express posted their top fifty albums of the decade (I’ll post it at some point Is This It was album of the decade) so I figure it was my turn but gosh darn it, I can’t remember when albums were released and anyway at least for the past three years I’ve stopped listening to albums in favor of songs.

So while I could do 1990s and 1980s with relative ease, the 2000s seem to be more a case of individual rather than extended moments.

But at least I know what my top two albums of the 2000s are. Second is TV On The Radio’s 2008 album Dear Science and the best album of the decade is 2005 Bright Eye’s I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.

For one reason, Conor Oberst is the songwriter of the decade. A bloke  who went from mascot to teenage boy wonder at Saddle Creek and then with Fevers And Mirrors provided Saddlecreek with their breakthrough hit as Bright Eyes graduated from playing your Grandma’s basement to bopping for apples in grungy college bars. Finally, with Lifted, Conor became a major heart throb and a major folkie. So far so good, but it was it’s I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning that made him a long term artist. With Wide Awake the only thing left to do with Conor Oberst was to take the man seriously.

As it happens, Wide Awake is one of a pair of albums, sorta like Springsteens Human Touch and Lucky TownTouch being rockier than Lucky. With Oberst the other album is Digital Ash In a Digital Urn, Wide Awake being the pop move to Digital Urns artier artifacts. But they are stand alone albums and though the emotionally devastated “Take It Easy (Love Or Nothing)” -an excuse for the cruel “Train Under Water” on Wide Awake, is among the great Bright eyes songs, the rest of the album isn’t so hot and even the chick magnet “Easy/Lucky/Free” -a Marie Lynn fave, leaves me cold.

The same can’t be said for I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. Conor’s New York City album though not quite. Written in New York it was recorded in Lincoln, Nebraska -forty two miles from Omaha, ground zero for Bright Eyes and Saddle Creek. And the sense of community so important to Saddlecreek reached its zenith with Wide Awake.

Though not Bright Eyes last album (it is indeed the penultimate studio BE to date), the follow up Cassedega was recorded in New York and Oregon as well as Nebraska. We knew Mike Mogis and we knew Nate Walcott, but we also knew ex-girlfriend Maria Taylor and Rilo Kiley drummer Jason Boessel, Nick White on piano, yes it’s THAT Jim Jones singing  back up on “At The Bottom Of Everything”, on and on. It is a whose who of Saddlecreek musicians and friends and a victory lap for Bright Eyes: this is it folks, big time rock album.

I’ve spent a life time claiming you can tell the value of an album by the songs that don’t making it on. The Lua EP includes “True Blue” -a song Conor loved enough to include on the Motion Sickness live album (ps a great country version) as well as “Well Whiskey and “I Woke Up With This Song In My Head” the latter has Conor “dreaming about your record collection, all the love long scratched affection”. Almost as good as Elastica’s “Waking Up” (this is what Justine sang: “Have a cup of tea, put a record on”.

Before you even listen to the first song on I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, just from the cover, a West Village brownstone with a red moon and the statue of liberty in the background, it’s the best album of the decade. It hasn’t started and you know where you are and when you reach “Lua” about a night of drinking and drugging in Manhattan, and “Train Under Water” -a song for those you leave behind when you’re drinking and drugging, you know exactly where you are because the cover of the album has shown you. Not every song but  every subplot, the things that are not being said, are all about Manhattan and it is accurate. It is my Manhattan. “We Are Nowhere And It is Now” is a Manhattan song “these songs are filled with things that kill” is a snapshot of his life as lived and it is an insular existence even though that is Emmylou Harris singing backup and Nate Walcott may never blow so low and lovely ever again.

It is damaged, Wide Awake is a damaged album for a place not solely damaged but also damaging and also the center of the Universe three years post 9-11 with every scar still showing.

The NYC centricity though is based upon a handful of songs, “Lua” “Train” “Nowhere”, “Road To Joy”, “Land Locked Blues” and “We Are Nowhere And It Is Now”. The other four songs surround and deepen the conceit. “At The Bottom Of Everything” -an ode to the joy of nothingness opens the proceedings. “Poison Oak” is a hark back to folkie leanings that aren’t so comfortable upon Conor any more though the song, about a suicide, is as finite an ending as you’ll ever find.

Which leaves me with two of my favorite songs of the ooos. “Lua” and “Train Under Water”. “Lua” is a pop song gussied up as a folk song, it’s like a whisper in a girls ear, it’s all come on and cooing on an everlasting night where love seems to be not only ephemeral but etheral as well. It’s like when you’re dreaming and it’s a good dream but you have to force yourself to stay in the dream. Conor inverts it, he and the girl have to stay awake because if they fall asleep it will be over and when the awake they won’t be in love any more, they won’t even know what they are doing side by side. Incidentally, I saw Bright Eyes play this at the Town Hall a coupla years ago and it was so moving a moment I don’t know what to do with the  memory.

“Train Under Water” starts like a tired roues come on and ends when Conor’s humanity seeps back in. No longer are the excuses on “Take It Easy (Love Nothing)” working, his “No, it isn’t so hard to get close to me, there’ll be no arguments, we’ll always agree, and I’ll try to be kind when I ask you to leave. We’ll both take it easy” has come back to haunt him. On “Train Under Water” he has plans to meet a girl in Brooklyn but “gets lost” outside the Village and spends the night looking for drugs and looking for kicks on Manhattan island. But the girl is alone and  upset and he ends up upset as well. Conor’s wail of “God damn make me cry” is the single greatest moment of the  decade on the single greatest album of the decade. It is childhoods end transmogrified into sound. Yeah, make me cry.

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