& Matt Sweeney
[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]
I'M WIDE AWAKE IT'S MORNING
DIGITAL ASH IN A DIGITAL URN
& MATT SWEENEY
RICK RUBIN, co-founder of the pioneering Def Jam label, recently and tactfully noted that hip hop “doesn't sound like an artist-based medium any more, more like a producer-driven medium”. As if to underscore the point, Dr Dre gives us his latest protégé, The Game.
The only surprising thing about The Documentary is that it didn't turn up sooner. If you like 50 Cent - and millions do - then you'll like this. Just to make sure you do, 50 appears on three of the tracks; and for all the difference it makes, he might as well be on the rest.
50's shopping list doubles up as The Game's. Muttered delivery? Check. War stories? Check. Money and bitches? Check. Heavyweight guest producers? Check. Nothing's been left to chance. The result is a sleek, listenable and well-made (if typically overlong) album with nary a shred of individuality to it. If The Game had been indisposed, they'd have wheeled somebody else into the studio, and it would scarcely have mattered.
Conor Oberst, now 24, has been making records for over ten years. A spiritual descendent of Todd Rundgren and Neil Young - musically omnivorous, frantically prolific, bridling at the times in which he finds himself - the man behind Bright Eyes has bright ideas the way other people have idle thoughts. In 2004, he found himself occupying the top two positions on the Billboard singles chart with very dissimilar songs, which now appear on a pair of very dissimilar albums. He may be short on quality control, but he's certainly not short on quality itself.
I'm Wide Awake It's Morning, heavily influenced by Bob Dylan (the opening track all but rewrites Chimes of Freedom), is a scribbled diary of a record, set to a backdrop of televised warfare and performed in quivering, urgent tones. Songs this personal are only ever as engaging as their creator. Fortunately, Oberst is very good, if intense, company.
That company's even more stimulating on Digital Ash In A Digital Urn, which not only shades it as a collection of songs, but offers the added intrigue of a scrambled electronic soundscape in place of the other's more traditional instrumentation.
Veteran country/folk eccentric Will Oldham, currently trading under the cryptic cognomen Bonnie “Prince” Billy, has yet to make a bad album, and his I See A Darkness is a brooding classic. The latest, Superwolf, is a collaborative experiment; Oldham wrote and sang the lyrics, his pal Matt Sweeney composed the music. It remains a characteristic Oldham record - mournful, spooked, quietly affecting - without ever quite distinguishing itself as a great one. That said, the closing I Gave You ranks with his finest work.
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