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Elliott Smith

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Album Review

Elliott Smith's self-titled second album was his first for the Kill Rock Stars label and also his first major artistic statement. Its sound is fairly similar to that of Roman Candle — it's mostly just Smith and his gently fingerpicked acoustic guitar, embellished a bit more often with drums, harmony vocals, and the odd additional instrument. The main difference here is that Smith's melodies and lyrics reveal their greater strength and substance with repeated listens. And make no mistake, the songs do require repeated listens — not just because of Smith's often whispery, spiderweb-thin delivery, but also because of his deceptively angular melodies and chord progressions, which threaten to float away until the listener hears them enough to latch on and know where they're going. Smith is often compared to Paul Simon or the Beatles in their softer moments, but perhaps the best touchstone for this early sound is Nick Drake's even more minimalistic Pink Moon; while Smith's language is rawer and tougher than Drake's haunting poetics, his songs also deal with depression and loneliness, creating an almost uncomfortable intimacy with their bare-bones arrangements. The quiet prettiness of Smith's sound can make it easy to overlook the darker, edgier side of his songs — many of Smith's embittered characters cope with their dysfunctional relationships or breakups through substance abuse, while some of the lyrics read more like angry, defiant punk rants when separated from the music. Smith would flesh out his sound with the albums to come, but Elliott Smith contains the blueprint for his later successes, and more importantly, it's a fully realized work itself.

Customer Reviews

Remarkably Cohesive, Tightly Composed

Let me say this straight away: I find nothing dark and depressing about this record. Melancholy, yes. Human, yes. Nocturnal and strangely somnambulistic, yes. Unfortunately tainted and left ripe for revisionism by his later decline, yes. But it is neither about nor composed by a heroin addict, although the very fact that this statement is constantly leveled against it in virtually every review I've ever read just goes to show how empathetically Smith portrayed the mindset of a northwest junkie in songs like "Needle In The Hay." But please, people, just LISTEN to the odd chord progressions and clever Costello-inspired wordplay (“Leave me alone, I'm getting good marks” from Needle; “One day she'll go, I told you so” vs. “One day she'll go, 'I told you so'.” Talking to Mary [an outtake, see New Moon]) and you will clearly hear a sense of seriousness and artistic professionalism on the other side of the spectrum of heroin addiction. Grab any live audio or video recording from the period and you will see and hear the same. This is Elliott Smith the lyricist and composer in his most mature, independent, and well-developed state, an inspired burst of meticulous craft and quality that continued through the subsequent recording of "Either/Or", albeit without quite the cohesion of sound accomplished here. To its credit, it shows little of the later lapse into Beatles-esque instrumentation and harmony that began with XO and intensified with Figure 8, that, although executed well, resulted in a sound not entirely unique to my ears. Ironically, in an inverted twist, the "happier” pop-oriented songs of his later big-budget years coincided with a lapse into harder drug abuse that most associate with his earlier "darker" works. Maybe it's that people want to believe in all that romantic b.s. about the spiraling addict, suffering through withdrawals while slumped over and singing into his 4-track Tascam, which makes better copy than the struggling songwriter who still works his day job and reads Dostoevsky.

An honest album, created by a human and not a machine.

I think what people don't understand about music today is, you need to look to find something good. I find it sad that kids who eat whatever is fed to them on the radio will never experience something as real and raw as this.

amazing album leading into the future of another crazed diamond

Mostly an all acoustic album, before Elliott's use of more instruments, in his future albums to come. Even from its dark album cover, Elliott said in 97' "He stated, "personally can't get more dark" his songs cross lines with failed romances, and substance abuse (The Biggest Lie), (Needle In The Hay), (Good To Go). Although considered to be a comforting, and gendler sound than its followup -either or-, his fingerpicking is described like a fusion of a Beatles pop sense and Neil Young's sence of doom. Recorded mostly in January/February 1995 in Portland at friend's homes, this is a perfect album to begin your road down (Alphabet Town). pdx.


Born: August 6, 1969 in Omaha, NE

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

The celebrated folk-punk singer/songwriter Elliott Smith rose from indie obscurity to mainstream success in 1997 on the strength of "Miss Misery," his Academy Award-nominated song from the film Good Will Hunting. A native of Portland, Oregon, Smith began writing and recording his first songs at age 14, later becoming a fixture of the city's thriving music scene. As a member of the band Heatmiser, he debuted in 1993 with the LP Dead Air, issuing his first solo effort, Roman Candle, on the tiny Cavity...
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