Growing up is hard to do. Growing up a wunderkind in public – your youth commodified as a talisman of sensitive youth – creates an odd torque to the transition. For Conor Oberst,“transitioning” into adulthood for the last decade, Salutations voyeurs into the black hole of cynicism and debauchery his alt-pop stardom made inevitable.
A pastiche of rejectionist Dylan, subdued Westerberg, Woody Guthrie-esque Springsteen, droll Prine and the Mumfords mainlining the Big Pink-era Band, 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.
From the harmonica wheeze punctuations of “Too Late To Fixate,” the ennui bubbles as Oberst’s narrator confesses a predilection for whores, justifying, “I don’t mind the money/It beats betting on sports/It may get expensive/But it’s cheaper than divorce…” It tumbles straight into the louche splendor of “Gossamer Thin.”
A paean to the court of left of the dial bohemian groupies and squalid affairs, “Gossamer” works as Salutations real set-up for what feels like the loose acoustic cousin to the Stones’ Exile on Main Street. Track marks, spousal betrayal, wasted days, wicked hangovers, jailbait, fashion choices, thrown away lovers, abandoned hotels, strings of justifications and the indulgence afforded rock stars steep songs that name check Lou Reed, Ronald Reagan, Paul Gauguin and Sylvia Plath for a nubby texture of culture stretched over wickedly supple playing from the Felice Brothers with a tea-stained worn’n’torn authenticity.
Over the course of 17 songs, Oberst’s inner brat rages against the numbing of the senses and erosion of civility, only to arrive at an awareness that never quite resolves. The final three songs—“You All Loved Him Once,” “A Little Uncanny” and the title track—find the dawning of awareness of how temporal fame’s centrifugal force can be: abandoned by sycophants, a “has been” reckons with indifference, cat box overflowing, TV dinner burned.
Along the way, there is cacophony in the electric guitar/fiddle lurch of the snarling “Napalm,” the tumbling images and realizations of the atmospheric “Counting Sheep,” and the piano notes spilt as brushes hit cymbals on the elegy of innocence “Next of Kin;” all illuminate the phases and stages of awareness even the most narcissistic encounter. Even the feel-good surrender of “Anytime Soon” and the acoustic Faces-invoking “Empty Hotel By The Sea” palpably embody the listless alienation of just “how hard it all is.”