Booze, drugs, and Ruminations!Nonesuch Records, 2017
7.7 / 10
Let’s look back on Conor Oberst’s recent album, Ruminations, as if it was a TV show. Previously on Conor Oberst’s musical career, Conor returns to his home of Omaha, Nebraska feeling weak from medical issues. Outside, snow piles high while the musician anxiously looks on. Later he stumbles into the room where his new piano sits. He plays a key; likes how it feels. A new scene shows Oberst writing songs on the piano, then throwing logs in the fire, and then writing more songs. A friend appears at Oberst’s home unexpectedly and asks, “Conor, what have you been doing here?” Conor smiles and replies, “I’ve got a new album. It’s called Ruminations.” Later Conor makes a trip to Nonesuch Records where a label head comments after hearing the album, “This is incredible.” Conor replies, “There’s one more on the way.” Cue dramatic music.
Which brings us to Salutations. If you listened to last year’s Ruminations, then you’ve already heard 10 of the songs on Salutations. This is somewhat a double-edged sword. The bad: the songs are so last year. The good: the songs remain pretty good, but a full band joins Conor to really flesh them out. Ruminations‘ versions feel more like demos; although, their sparse, bare-bones arrangements are what made the album stand out from Oberst’s past records. So is he tweaking something more than he needs to?
If the reworked versions of the Ruminations‘ songs don’t sell you on Salutations, it does have a mini-LP’s worth of new material. Seven new songs to be exact. And they reassert Ruminations‘ dark themes of alcoholism, infidelity, anxiety, and really any tragedy you can think of. Despite its constant allusions to rock star life, Salutations feels like a cautionary tale meant for musicians starting out. Conor Oberst is undoubtedly a statesman of independent music, yet he still suffers while enjoying the comforts of his lifestyle. Obviously it makes for great material, especially with a full band behind him.
And really, it’s nice to hear these iterations on the songs of Ruminations. Some people will prefer these over the originals and vice versa. Salutations replaces Ruminations‘ atmosphere of isolation and despair with what sounds like a party in the studio. At least, Oberst sounds like he’s having a good time. Because don’t we want him to be happy, and not the guy on Ruminations?