Elliott Smith
XO


5.0
classic

Review

by Tyler Fisher EMERITUS
May 25th, 2007 | 593 replies


Release Date: 1998 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A brilliant work of art, Elliott Smith takes his music to a new level with enhanced studio production and more ensemble statements.

When I think about fantastic singer-songwriters, albums like XO do not come to mind. Instead, I dream up sparse, empty records laced with stark emotion and pure, unadulterated humanity. Damien Rice’s O, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, Johnny Cash’s American Recordings: all of these demonstrate what I consider the definitive guitar-wielding singer-songwriter album. I came upon Elliott Smith late in my musical progression, but once I decided to check him out, I went on an Elliott Smith album spree. I picked up New Moon, Roman Candle, and XO. Randomly, I played XO first and I was not prepared for the musical odyssey Smith set out for me. Ironically, the opening statements of Sweet Adeline were exactly what I expected from the album- interpersonal lyrics with simple yet brilliant guitar. Just before I settled into the setting the song laid out, a deep bass swell led the song into one of the most beautiful choruses on the album, a huge band statement triumphant and resplendent, with deep piano, jumpy bass, and atmospheric drums. With major-keyed, uplifting vocal melodies straight out of a Beatles song, XO has only just begun.

XO begins to make sense once one knows that it is actually his major label debut. The refined, perfect production style and full instrumentation becomes possible only because of DreamWorks Records. Riding the success of Miss Misery from Good Will Hunting and his Oscar nomination, DreamWorks saw Elliott as the next big thing. He had incredible opportunity. He often cited the Beatles as his primary influence, listening to them all his life and constantly covering them in concert, and no one came as close to recreating their magic than him. With the powerful studio at DreamWorks, Smith composes a lush pop record on this album rather than the introverted, somnolent records of his past on Kill Rock Stars. Songs like Baby Britain and Independence Day show Smith’s ability to arrange for a full ensemble. Baby Britain outlines a sound that Belle and Sebastian may have found inspiration from for their Dear Catastrophe Waitress album- a simple structure with a pseudo-jazzy feel to it. The latter uses a drum loop as its basis, bringing warm Rhodes keyboard and brilliant chord progressions to the melodic side of the song. Smith’s full ensemble statements make XO more complete than his previous efforts, making each song reach its full potential.

Still, Smith wrote each song on his acoustic guitar, and every song finds its basic structure in the guitar. In this foundation, the album never forgets Elliott’s introspective, reserved manner. He makes sure that he never loses sight of his own personal integrity; DreamWorks Records would not influence him to become just another singer. Pitseleh, meaning “little one” in Yiddish, sounds most like Smith’s older solo work, primarily acoustic guitar. The guitar work is busy enough that Elliott did not need to add any other instruments besides the small piano solo to break up his verses. Even on songs like Bottle Up and Explode, which uses a full band, exposes the way Smith composed the song, playing through the form once on acoustic before anything else and letting that voice dominate the instrumentation. Oddly enough, the most introspective, simple song uses no guitar. Album closer I Don’t Understand finds Elliott tracking his voice multiple times to create a beautiful, somber a cappella song. The harmonies sound baroque-influenced, at some points sounding straight out of a Bach composition. XO is simply an expansion of his acoustic guitar compositions.

As if the brilliant music compositions were not enough, Elliott has a complete second dimension to his songs- the lyrics. Topics on the album range from family memories to friends to the simple song about love, and Smith writes about each effectively and smartly. Without getting too complex, he manages to make points that reach far beyond their literal interpretation. Lines like “There's a kid a floor below me saying brother can you spare/Sunshine for a brother, Old Man Winter's in the air” leave many interpretations, but his imagery and allusions are beyond comparison. He speaks of suicide often in an almost prophetic way, mentioning it in Sweet Adeline and Pitseleh. The way he constructs his words around his melodies is remarkable; there is a distinct connection between the music and the lyrics. At times, he sings so apathetically it seems he has no idea what he is saying, but it fits the flat, quiet manner of the music perfectly. Other times, he joins in the triumphant glee of his compositions. Smith’s lyrics and vocal style bring the complete package to his album.

Elliott Smith disproves the assumption that major labels make artists sell out. He did anything but that on XO. He simply took his music to a brand new level with the equipment DreamWorks gave to him. From the lush, beautiful waltzes to the fun and upbeat middle section of the album, Smith covers a broad range of musical styles while always maintaining his distinctive musical qualities. Each song contains his lyrical and musical brilliance. It seems like the perfect album, almost too perfect. But if Elliott Smith has taught us anything, it’s the flaws of something that make it beautiful, and maybe that’s why XO seems so perfect.



Recent reviews by this author
Das Racist RelaxLil Wayne Tha Carter IV
The Weeknd ThursdayJay-Z and Kanye West Watch the Throne
Shabazz Palaces Black UpFleet Foxes Helplessness Blues
user ratings (1009)
Chart.
4.3
superb
other reviews of this album
cagedbutterfly (5)
Elliott blends rock with folk and crafts a masterpiece of an album...

NathanBeesley (5)
The songs on XO are gateways to new worlds: It is through their inherent poetry and the fragile whis...

KjD (5)
Catchy, emotional, and well-written, XO is a masterpiece....

(5)
...


Comments:Add a Comment 
pulseczar
May 25th 2007


2385 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Nice review. I'd say Elliott Smith is his definitive album, as XO adds a lot to the songs that they don't need, though I still appreciate the high production, if that makes sense.

Doppelganger
May 26th 2007


3124 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Awesome review. This is probably my strongest 4.5 to date, so very very close to a 5. Tomorrow, Tomorrow and I Don't Understand are my favorites.

plane
Staff Reviewer
May 26th 2007


6100 Comments


Awesome review. I've been hearing people praise him a lot lately, so I'll look into this.

jrowa001
May 26th 2007


8750 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

great review, im planning on getting this soon since either/or has become one of my fav albums

Abaddon2005
May 26th 2007


684 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

This would have been a 5 for me if there had been a little more stripped down moments on here like on Either/Or.

FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
May 26th 2007


2806 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I don't have Either/Or and Elliott Smith, but I'll be sure to check them out next. As of now, this is the best Elliott Smith I've heard and one of the best albums I've heard from anyone in a long time.

Zmev
May 26th 2007


983 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Beautiful album. Totally agree on the rating.

MeowMeow
May 26th 2007


662 Comments


I have From A Basement... but I need this one. Great review.

Tyler
Emeritus
May 26th 2007


7926 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

this might hit 5.

Two-Headed Boy
May 27th 2007


4527 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Waltz #2 is one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

Nice work.This Message Edited On 06.24.07

Bron-Yr-Aur
May 29th 2007


4405 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Either/Or is mesmerizing, so this obviously warrants a listen. A nice review, too.

MrKite
May 29th 2007


5020 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This is is really good.
Either/Or was my first choice, but this is making up for my dissapointment.

samthebassman
May 29th 2007


2164 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Such a strong album, I had heard a few of these songs on the radio but I didnt realise they were Elliott Smith songs.

Bron-Yr-Aur
June 27th 2007


4405 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Excellent, excellent album.

Baby Britain man

plane
Staff Reviewer
July 17th 2007


6100 Comments


This is good, but not that good. Maybe it'll grow on me, but right now it's just not clicking that well.

The Jungler
August 19th 2007


4827 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

OK, this is my third Elliott Smith album this weekend. So far the production is definitley different, but I can't say much bad yet. I like him a lot.

MrKite
September 19th 2007


5020 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

She shows no emotion at all
Stares into space like a dead china doll.

SynGates
December 6th 2007


2467 Comments


I can't believe I never listened to him until recently.

Waltz #2 is one of the most beautiful songs ever written.


Aficionado
December 6th 2007


1027 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is an excellent album, every song is so hard hitting.

bAdMaRk
February 7th 2008


58 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I think this is a superb album, the one i prefer by elliott smith after "either or".



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2014 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Privacy Policy