Review Summary: Now I'm a crashed credit card registered to Smith - Not the name that you called me with.
Despite all that has been written about Elliott Smith: the suffocating loneliness, consuming drug use, and turbulent childhood, it is quite possible that no one understood who he truly was. After all, it was the ambiguity in Smith’s music that brought about the relatable factor that we so often seek in singer/songwriters, even if the magnitude of the subject matter was much greater than anything we would ever experience. As demonstrated in his stint with Heatmiser, Smith was so far removed from mainstream society that his only consolation was to escape to his desolate solo material, almost less isolated without the band. This refusal to manage the limelight is what drove John Frusciante to his nearly decade-long heroine-driven depression, but while Frusciante had the support to overcome his predicament, Smith was unaided, or perhaps too far gone to come into the light. He was boxed in; music being the only channel by which to temporarily ease his anguish.
Smith’s self-titled release is the most “Elliott Smith” of all of his records, as it addresses every level and element of his misapprehended life. Much like its predecessor, Elliott Smith
is as stripped down as it comes; predominately utilizing his acoustic guitar, unrefined production, and his hauntingly composed vocals. The combination of these aspects manufactures a release that is rawer than anything in recent memory. Although isolated and seemingly powerless to the world around him, Elliott Smith
is a man cynical of those who have provoked him, whether it is the “back dream fu
ckers” of “Christian Brothers” or his abusive step-father. “Southern Belle” assesses his mother and stepfather’s relationship; accessing the pain of watching his harmless mother being battered by a man who would never own up to his abuse: “How come you’re not ashamed of what you are? And sorry, you’re the one that she’s got.” Tracks such as “Southern Belle” are what make Elliott Smith
a harrowing and immensely difficult listen. For this very reason, Smith’s self-titled release takes some effort to eventually grasp. The bleak ambience is occasionally eased by tremendous melodies such as those implemented in “St. Ides Heaven,” “Coming Up Roses,” and “Clementine.” A staple of his solo work, Smith's vocal prowess was rooted in his ability to craft brilliantly complementing harmonies, bringing in a dimension of hope that could not be siphoned through his lyricism.
Never devoid of a potent moment, Elliott Smith
culminates with the heartrending closer “The Biggest Lie,” where once again, that ambiguity surfaces. Built on the remains of a shattered relationship, “The Biggest Lie” climaxes with conceivably Smith’s most supreme lyrics: “Oh we’re so, very precious you and I, and everything that you do, makes me want to die. Oh, I just told the biggest lie.” Leaving the words open to interpretation, Smith exits Elliott Smith
with a message that can easily be correlated to, even if we will never fully comprehend what is meant by “The Biggest Lie.” Just like how we will never fully understand Smith himself, even eight years removed from his agonizing death.
R.I.P. – 10/21/03