It's 11:30 A.M.
I wake up in a fairly strange bed. I soon realize that I'm in the basement of a friend's house, where a party had taken place the previous night. That comes as a relief, since I could have awoken to a bunch of cows mooing next to me in the middle of a soppy field. Or apparently, I also could have... nah, you probably don't want to know the other possibilities. Anyway, once I get enough of the minute of trying to make my mind work and the regretting of the weekend hobby I tend to have, I get up. At the staircase I hear a couple of mates laughing at me. Oh well, too bad I'm always the one. After finding my jeans and the worn-out shoes at the swimming pool, I head to the closest bus stop. Once I've got my place at the back, I assimilate how lucky I am to still find my best friend in my front pocket. It looks like a rainy day and I have a bloody headache. The journey is supposed to endure about 40 minutes. So my iPod makes the perfect choice, Elliott Smith's third solo album, Either/Or
Song #1 on the playlist happens to be "Speed Trials". It is clearly the song that resembles the most of Elliott's first two albums. This can be, as a matter of fact, heard immediately. This is the sound that comes from his four-track recorder, that broadly speaking gave a very unique vibe to his songs. In this record, it turns out to be the only one to have that benign quality. Personally I love it, which is probably the main reason why his early work is to my mind the most pleasing. The song is most certainly about drug abuse, with its great explanation When the socket's not a shock enough/You little child, what makes you think you're tough”
When the chorus (“It's just a brief smile crossing your face/Running speed trials all over the place”
) is sang for the last time, the song fades out with his simple, delightful crooning. Every time I hear this part I feel like time stagnates just to esteem his voice. Once again, while ignoring obnoxious feelings, my body's adequate enough to give myself goosebumps.
There are numerous things that make Either/Or
the most common favorite of Smith's fans. The first of those reasons that comes up after listening to his whole discography over and over again, is the mix of styles during the album. No songs sound similar, the problem that occurred on Roman Candle
and the self titled. After the opener Elliott comes in with a very different song, although with the equally slow tempo. "Alameda", named after a small town in the coast of California, is another breathtaking ballad, that I usually listen to when I feel like someone who'll never accomplish anything. I'll mention the lines that end the song, the refrain of “Nobody broke your heart/You broke your own because you can't finish what you start”
. Apart from these sad, slow paced acoustic songs that still cover Elliott's trademark, Either/Or
consists a few fast poppy songs, that are remarkable for leaning more on catchy choruses. "Ballad of Big Nothing" and "Pictures of Me" are the two obvious ones, perhaps taking along "Cupid's Trick" that may have the album's catchiest part as its chorus. After listening to the 12 songs about a hundred times though, it may also abide as the most unsung.
In many songs Elliott's lyrics have signs of self-pity and depression. For example “I'd say it's a sight that's quite worth seeing/It's just that everyone's interest is stronger than mine/And when they clean the street i'll be the only sh*t that's left behind”
from the underrated "Rose Parade". It's one of the most relaxing songs I have ever heard, with very simple acoustic guitar and drum beats. It is the follower of the 5th version of the No Names
, a song that's rarely mentioned anywhere. I'd say it's one of those tracks you need to listen to more than ten times to get into completely. Either/Or
contains also two tracks that have equivalent styles to the ones that can be heard in his later releases, XO
and Figure 8
, with background singing (by himself), as well as a modern type of production. These songs are "Punch and Judy" and "2:45 A.M." The latter develops from an emotional acoustic song into a loud Rock-song by adding a simply effective drum comp to the closing minute.
Three of the album's songs were picked up by Gus Van Sant to the both commercially and critically successful 1997 film Good Will Hunting
. This gave Elliott the most important step towards fame in his career. He even got an Oscar-nomination, and although he lost it to the “wonderful” voice of Celine Dion, he was the one recognized by public. Anyway, one of the songs featured in the movie is "Between the Bars" which may well be his most played song. The other two, can be found in the top 5 as well. This song, is in my opinion one of the most beautiful songs ever written. It's extremely simple and brief, but consists so much emotion a song possible can. The lyrics are once again depressing, being about alcoholism. The way Elliott warbles “Drink up, baby, look at the stars/I'll kiss you again, between the bars”
is just brilliant. "Angeles" is another one of his widely recognized songs, including maybe the best fast paced acoustic intro ever. Everyone should hear it at least once in a lifetime, its beauty is nearly undescribable. It is also featured in the end of the movie Paranoid Park
(that I recommend being one of my favorite films). The album's closer on the other hand is actually the only song that has at some point a happy and optimistic atmosphere. While I get ready to get off the bus at the railway station, I realize how well it fits to my feelings at the moment. “A happy day and then you pay/And feel like sh*t the morning after/Situations get f*cked up and turned around sooner or later/And I could be another fool or an exception to the rule/You tell me the morning after”
. The masterpiece has come to a close, I'm in central Helsinki. I look at all the people walking around, passing by. And I'm thinking how lucky I am to have experienced this. Then I look at the grey sky, before smiling and saying 'yes' to myself.
Elliott also defined “solo album” by playing every instrument on the record. He dominated with the guitar and his overwhelming vocal folds, but he was also proficient at piano, clarinet, bass, drums and harmonica. Some of them weren't included in this album, but Either/Or
may still be the best proof that he was one of the most talented songwriters ever noticed. Although the album's genre is usually considered as Indie rock, it doesn't sound at all like any other artist of the music sector, Smith's music is in my opinion too unrivaled to be compared to anything. This record's 12 songs make it clock at only 37 minutes, and they're barely the tenth of the essential songs he wrote in his lifetime even though he died at a very young age. There were B-sides from the album included in his posthumous collection New Moon
, and hearing the brilliant quality of some of them, I cannot figure out why there weren't more tracks in this final work. Fortunately the songs included are all amazing in their own way, which makes this in my eyes a masterpiece.