Songwriting is a skill many artists can struggle with, but this doesn’t seem to apply to Conor Oberst. The folk musician has taken his feelings, ideas, and emotions and formed them into words.
Throughout his new album Salutations, he writes like a poet and sings like he’s in the choir. Although not without some trepidation, Oberst’s follow-up to Ruminations have the same fervor as its predecessor. It all adds up to a consistent album, though the consistency can make for dry and monotonous songs that blend together instrumentally. However, the lyrics for each are all unique and set every one apart in their message.
A solo album like this one, especially after playing with bands for the majority of a career, can be nothing short of difficult. But just look at One Direction – even after going separate ways, they all managed some success with their music afterwards. They didn’t lose their sense of self, and neither did Oberst. From bittersweet words that outlay his love to the violins, harmonicas, and other backyard jam instruments, he certainly did not shy away from being unconventional.
Kicking off the album is “Too Late to Fixate” and it seems to revolve around self-reflection. In fact, the whole album seems to be about looking inwards. “I guess I should count my blessings/I don’t sleep in the park” and “No, I’m up in the penthouse/On a big feather bed/Is it too late to fixate/On that instead” illuminates the almost jaded tone. The harmonica adds to the feeling of a bar tune; unfortunately, it also feels as if someone in their inebriated state decided to start singing.
It seems like we’re given an entrance to someone’s mind with “Gossamer Thin,” and it is certainly one of the most explicit in relating to us the woes of life. In one song, he expresses what so many of us experience when we’re down in the dumps. He talks about seeing his therapist and relationship troubles on top of eliding harmonies. The title explains how he has become “gossamer thin” and speaks to us all when we feel stretched out and worn down. One thing done excellently well is how every song seems relatable, or at least real and down-to-earth. There isn’t a persona masking each song; they get down to the nitty-gritty.
The violin is an instrument used often by Oberst and it expands on the quality of sound quite well. It can be heard in the background on most of the tracks, but is especially important in “Rain Follows the Plow.” It has a few solo spots in the beginning, and has more than simple quarter or whole notes. Along with the guitar, it adds rhythms that differentiate it from the rest of the heartfelt pieces. This is one of rebellion, and its lyrics can be inferred as homage to his youth attending Catholic school in Nebraska. This song was featured on Ruminations as well. One original song to this album is “Empty Hotel by the Sea,” which features many of his other distinct trademarks, but has a sly soulful feel.
Overall, Oberst does well in his follow-up solo album. Although it isn’t his most amazing work, it’s a solid album that does his songwriting skills justice.