The result is probably the best work of the singer’s career, a wide-ranging survey of contemporary shortcomings in which the frequent bursts of offhand spite and bitterness are perfectly balanced by the warmth of the folk-rock arrangements.
Salutations expands Oberst’s raw scratch solo Ruminations’ 10 songs into a messier, more glorious celebration of squalor and self-indulgence with a self-loathing chaser.
It’s the sound of a gifted songwriter comfortable with his craft and in his own skin, offering glinting new facets to earlier sounds and the songs present on Ruminations, and it makes for a subtle, yet striking departure from everything that came before.
“Salutations” is an exposition on life, love and how cruel and painful it is to live and die in the world today.
With a total of 17 songs and a runtime of over an hour, Salutations is Oberst's most ambitious album since his 2002 Bright Eyes masterpiece Lifted, and the best instalment in his solo discography.
He's no longer a busker preaching the truth only he knows. He's no longer so confident -- he gains confidence through collaboration -- and the result is rich and resonant, a testament to the power of communal music over solo soul-baring.
Releasing two similar albums in such close proximity might seem like a cynical attempt to double-down on the success of the first, but rather than feel like a re-release thrown together by label execs, these were the tracks as they should be; rich, nuanced, and steeped in major key melodies.
If nothing else, Salutations is a fascinating look at the changes that come from collaboration and evolution in a studio setting versus the isolation in which these songs were born.
His country-tinged folk-rock has been honed over the years with only subtle alterations. Salutations has him again plowing his well-trodden furrow, working through topics from death to politics, the grind of life, and love.
Salutations is good, but it is apparent it could have been better. Rather than swing for the fences, Conor and crew settled for a base hit that didn’t move any runners on base.
Ruminations is essential, then; consider Salutations its eccentric cousin, often engaging and occasionally difficult.
At seventeen tracks, this is an album which doesn’t carry quite enough weight to justify its length. But it’s typically high-bar Oberst fayre; Sunday night music, music which requires a quiet context, and a reflective mood.
For Salutations, Conor Oberst rearranged songs from 2016’s Ruminations with a full band and shuffled, expanded tracklist. It’s one of his most demanding albums, and also one of his least ambitious.