Review Summary: oh we're so, very precious you and I
Talking about myself is difficult. Especially when meeting new people. First days of class and icebreaker games are the bane of my school year. Tongues twist and premeditated answers disappear, inevitably. I get the sense that Elliott feels the same way, if not exponentially more so. Odd, considering his expertise as an artist is centered around divulging the most personal inners of his existence. It’s fitting that his second record is his self-titled... it is the absolute peak of his self-exhibitionism, after all. Still, the incessant, morose mood of Elliott Smith
indicates that Elliott does not enjoy this tell-all technique; he’s uncomfortable, wary, as if every syllable he parts with is another drop of blood bleeding from his already-weak frame. You know why he’s enervated, though. Devastating imagery of drugs, lost love, and the type of foreboding cynicism that accompanies a man diving to his demise are ingrained into every spidery, shivering line Elliott delivers. Despite relatively simple techniques, his self-titled record is a nosedive into his dark abyss, the single most evocative piece of music I’ve ever encountered. The harmless mellifluousness and Beach Boys-esque tunes belie the true seriousness of the record, which proves itself to be a slinking, isolatory and almost disturbingly personal encounter with the deceased artist.
Don’t be mistaken by his soft demeanor. Elliott Smith
is mellow yet lyrically heartbreaking. The beauty in the harmonies of “Single File” and “Coming Up Roses” are offset by the heroin-infused scrawls of his writing. Raw and visceral, the streaky guitar sliding of “Clementine,” for instance, matches his cold demeanor as he turns a carefree ditty into a lovelorn number. And the distinct mix of candidness and sorrow that runs through his soft whispers are what separate Elliott (alongside his more tuneful harmonies) from obvious influences Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley. This much is true, and the record is often cited as the epitome of melancholy, but more than a few times I sense something else-- an overbearing sense of anger. It’s accentuated by the profanity, not a usual device in the singer-songwriter’s arsenal. The emphasis that Elliott adds by wielding four-letter words in many of Elliott Smith
’s tracks results in the most intense moments, though, see: “St. Ide’s Heaven” (Because everyone is a fucking pro
), “Christian Brothers” (No bad dream fucker’s gonna boss me around
), and “Single File” (Here in line where stupid shit collides
). Be it in the profanity or Elliott’s strains with love and drugs, there’s a tragic hopelessness to Elliott’s words amidst the hollowed-out guitar chords, like he’s one the verge of his end with no rescue in sight.
Again, it’s hard for me to believe this is a record Elliott enjoyed writing, much less releasing to the public for their scornful ears to criticize it. He did though, I think he had
to. His self-titled record, besides existing as the most skillful display of songwriting unleashed during the decade, is an evocative diary of Elliott’s pain and anguish, a tiny glimpse of light into his dark cavern of suffering that was his life while addicted to heroin and despising life. The pain that flows like blood from Elliott’s second album is just the side-effect of the demons he seems to be so desperately trying to exorcise throughout the piece. As personal and self-centered his self-titled record is, there’s no doubt in my mind that Elliott is the blurry figure on the cover. He’s leaped off the building, and Elliott Smith
is the tragic, personal narrative that Elliott tells on the way down.