Compared to Bright Eyes’ beloved 2005 record “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning,” Conor Oberst’s seventh solo studio album “Ruminations” is a melodic anomaly.
In “Ruminations,” despondent vocal melodies replace the cheerful progressions of his previous record. Oberst’s unsteady voice carries emotional weight in “Counting Sheep” as he sings, “I just want to be easy, acceptable / I don’t want to seem needy to anyone, especially you.”
The album also confronts the Freudian concept of the ego. From Oberst’s perspective, his own body is betraying him. As his life collapses before him, he watches helplessly, singing, “Highway to hell’s littered with signs / Every last thing they advertise, I want to buy.”
The album’s penultimate track “You All Loved Him Once,” is perhaps Oberst’s magnum opus. In a brutal address, Oberst sings with defeat to the attendees of his hypothetical funeral: “He helped carry your baggage/ When your strength was nearly gone.”
The album then turns its reflective lens on the listener, making us look ourselves in the mirror and face our own personal pain: “Oh, when it came time to stand with him / You scattered with the rats.”
Regarded as one of the 21st century’s most prolific songwriters, “Ruminations” is an honest reflection of the ugly parts of an artist’s suppressed mental landscape. Oberst addresses the topics we tend to ignore, even exploring disturbing territory at times. “Ruminations” is a tender reflection of fame’s dark sides and is Oberst’s most vulnerable work to date.
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