Elliott Smith
Elliott Smith


5.0
classic

Review

by Thomas Bambaataa Ghidrah Towers USER (67 Reviews)
August 11th, 2006 | 29 replies | 3,922 views


Release Date: 1995 | Tracklist


6 of 6 thought this review was well written

Elliott Smith was like a big pretty butterfly. Well, as pretty as a butterfly can get with such a large, creepy face. In his early rock band Heatmiser, he was a squirmy caterpillar, shuffling around the grunge scene in a loud mess. In Heatmiser's later days, he began going into his cocoon with the recordings of his debut album Roman Candle, whose raw, yet reserved acoustic sound didn't fit in with his band. And finally, his self-titled sophomore album showed Smith emerging out of the cocoon. As his career progressed from there (and as Heatmiser subsequently started falling apart), the instrumentation and experimentation grew, but the backbone of every Elliott Smith song is in Elliott Smith.

Smith's music is elusive and recondite in various ways. There's not a single thing that’s immediately noticed at first with his music, yet it's all absorbed. Elliott slyly enhances this with the album's simply constructed opener, Needle in the Hay. Being built around 4 simple 5th (power) chords, and a simple chorus that is the title, Elliott Smith begins in an inconspicuous manner. As the album progresses, though, it becomes noticed that the songs shift through subtle, curveball shifts. As a result, the idea of a pacific album reigned by a sole acoustic guitar being simply a pleasant, forgettable listen is shed (start taking notes, James Blunt). Elliott Smith's ways with unique, yet memorable melodies is highlighted starkly as his lonesome playing confidently leads the way.

Knowing how unreliable I am, I stretched the truth a bit, as a couple of the songs are accompanied by other instruments, but the guitar remains the lead trooper. Dylanesque harmonica intros join two of the most melodically accessible songs, Coming Up Roses and Alphabet Town. But the Mississippi Saxes don't intrude, they creep along with the song naturally, as if Smith ignored them and continued the songs normally. The same goes for Single File that has a flimsy guitar riff that dances around the chorus, but Smith's fierce vocal delivery commands the attention of the listener.

Smith's lyrics are what hit hardest when noticed. A friend of mine who never pays attention to lyrics said Smith sounds like an innocent boy with a guitar. Wrong! Elliott Smith will fuck you up! Well, not really, but the harsh honesty of drug use (not actually his, he didn't develop an addiction until years later) interweaved with the serene compositions is astonishing. St. Ide's Heaven is a perfect example of his mix between ethereal poetry and candid experience with drugs, beginning with the comical opening: "everything here is exactly right/when I walk around here drunk every night" then the chorus: "high on amphetamines/the moon is a light bulb breaking/it'll go around with anyone/but it won't come down for anyone". The music literally translates this, the verse containing aggressive stop-start playing and transitioning into an airy ride. The drug themes sometime don’t even relate to drugs, but rather surreal metaphors.

So all the drug talk would make one imagine Elliott Smith having a gruff, hardass voice, with some ridiculous New Jersey accent. But his voice is as soft the guitar itself, mostly reverting itself to a shy whisper with a delicate rasp. Yet out of this voice, comes out foul-mouthed confrontational lines like "no bad dream fucker’s gonna boss me around/Christian brothers gonna take him down". Opposites really do attract on Elliott Smith. The climax of Southern Belle features Smith bursting out with a raised voice, but still keeps its reserved shakiness. His signature double tracked voice and Beach Boys tinged harmonies surround the listener and make an intimate, somewhat ominous mood.

Clocking in at 37 minutes, every second of Elliott Smith counts to introduce Smith as one of the 90s most gifted for pop music. Every song has an enthralling melody, and a thought provoking story. The eponymous record demands repeated listens, each time drawing the listener deeper and deeper into the grizzly indie star's mind. As he expanded his George Harrison and Beach Boys influence with a more ample budget on later albums, everything one needs to know him is on this album.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
August 11th 2006



16081 Comments


Nice review, but Elliot Smith makes me all itchy for some reason.

Dimes Make Dollars
August 11th 2006



241 Comments


Good review. His best album.

Cygnus Inter Anates
August 11th 2006



721 Comments


I love Either/Or.

slack
August 11th 2006



249 Comments


I usually fall in love with one or two of these songs, and then rediscover the rest somewhere down the line. Good to Go and Single File are my favorites ... er, aside from the obvious classics.

Everyone should have this.

Two-Headed Boy
August 12th 2006



4527 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Elliot Smith is one of the greatest people who has ever lived, but I still have to listen to Figure 8, supposedly his worst.

Fantabulous review. This album is a faceful of brilliance.This Message Edited On 06.29.07

Scuba_Steve
August 14th 2006



46 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I'd just like to point out that at the time he recorded/wrote the songs for this album he hadn't dabbled in drugs yet.

All of the drug lines are metaphors for dependance.

Nice review though, and an astonishing album.

pulseczar
August 14th 2006



2385 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Though it is true that he didn't develop a problem until later in his life, he has said that by 14, he had tried every drug there was. I'll edit it, though.

Zebra
Moderator
August 14th 2006



2647 Comments


I've heard a few Elliot Smith songs and didn't really like them that much. That being said I should probably give this a listen considering the fact that people adore it so much.

francesfarmer
August 14th 2006



1477 Comments


Do you remember the songs you heard?

Zebra
Moderator
August 14th 2006



2647 Comments


I heard "Between the Bars" and a few others from Either/Or.

francesfarmer
August 14th 2006



1477 Comments


Didn't like Either/Or...

You should give From a Basement On The Hill a shot. You've probably heard Twilight. I think you'd enjoy his debut the best, though.


Cygnus Inter Anates
August 14th 2006



721 Comments


Either/Or is awesome you're silly.

Scuba_Steve
August 14th 2006



46 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Zebra, check out some of elliott's stuff when he was still in heatmiser.

I'm getting into it more and more, and it's probably more accessible than his solo stuff. (although the solo stuff is still pretty accesible.)

also, I've heard that while he had messed around with most hallucinogens by 14, he hadn't quite gotten around to heroin or cocaine (his major downfalls) at that age. I'll check around and post again when I know for sure.This Message Edited On 08.15.06

Scuba_Steve
August 15th 2006



46 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

as much as I hate to double post/comment, here's what I found.

from sweetadeline.com's biography of elliott.

"He was around 14 when he first tried marijuana-right in back of his local church. “A friend’s Dad grew his own pot which he kept in a greasy old margarine container. It was shiny. We didn’t know how much to smoke, so we just kept on until we couldn’t smoke any more. … It didn’t really work for me, but my friend was running around shouting, ‘This is great!’ About an hour later, he looked at me and said, ‘what if it never goes away?’ He was freaked out. The second time it worked, music sounded amazing.”"

it later talks about how his main drugs were simply beer and irish whisky. SO he wasn't a big junkie during his early career/life.

pulseczar
August 15th 2006



2385 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Yeah you're right, sorry about all this. I was actually reading that biography and one of another musican at the same time, I guess I got them mixed up. I can't say I didn't make some assumptions, though.

Gambit
August 15th 2006



7 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I love this album.

Scuba_Steve
August 15th 2006



46 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

no problem, it's very easy to assume hes been a longtime drug addict if you read the lyrics and know about his later years.

MrKite
January 25th 2007



5020 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I'm diggin' what I heard from this guy.

Two-Headed Boy
June 29th 2007



4527 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Rating is subjected to a bump by .5 stars.

Classic.

The Jungler
August 21st 2007



4827 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I've listened to this a lot this week. Really great album.



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