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Elliot Smith - An Introduction to...Elliot Smith

  by Anthony Middleton

published: 15 / 10 / 2010

Elliot Smith - An Introduction to...Elliot Smith
Label: Domino Records
Format: CD


Breathtaking and often surprising compilation album which succeeds in being the perfect guide to the career of the late American singer-songwriter and musician Elliot Smith

Such is the effected emoting and sentimental self-obsession of many singers, that it is hard to tell when they are for real in their self-declared pain and anguish. Only our radar for recognising honesty tells us that Morrissey is being more plain with us than Robbie Williams. With others, their life’s work suddenly takes on a new meaning when they are either self-destructive or deliberately destroy themselves. Whether it is Richie James, Kurt Cobain, Mark Linkous or Nick Drake the ultimate demonstration that they were in genuine agony comes with their suicide. With Elliot Smith, as with Drake, there remains some doubt about whether it was suicide, though the alternative here is murder rather than misadventure since Smith was killed by a stab to the heart. A rare means of suicide, nothing could be symbolic of a tortured soul’s desperation to end the torment. Rather that being called ‘Best of’ or ‘Greatest Hits’ this album purports to be a more considered means of guiding listeners into Smith’s work. There is nothing, presumably for legal reasons, from 'Figure 8', the last album released before Smith’s death and considered one of his finest. So, an introduction rather than a summation. The talent on this is breathtaking, the anger and depression, apparently stemming from childhood abuse is subtle and more implied than pushed down our throats. From the opening Ballad of 'Big Nothing', which out of the context of Smith would sound like AOR, everything here is great and/or intriguing in equal measure. Smith’s signature of double tracked vocals and harmonies and used to full melodic effect and demonstrate his love of the Beatles with pop sensibility, simple flair and lyrical wit. His hits, both coming on the backs of being included in film soundtracks, 'Needle in Hay' ('The Royal Tennenbaums') and 'Miss Misery' ('Good Will Hunting') are included, the latter in demo form. Not that these are the highlights particularly, though 'Needle in the Hay' has an understated intensity that is certainly influenced by Nirvana’s quieter moments such as 'Polly' with its simple revolving riff backing. The most featured album is' Either/Or', Smiths' third album and named after Kirkegaardes book of the same title. These are certainly has some of the most affecting songs, including 'Pictures of Me' and the haunting 'Alameda' with lines like “Nobody broke your heart/You broke your own/Because you can’t finish what you start” all to sumptuous folk guitar. The only song from 'Roman Candle', Smith’s simple, scratchy, mistake-ridden debut is 'Last Call' rather than the title track. There are also two songs from his posthumous album, 'From a Basement on the Hill' when the full flower of his talent is in bloom with fabulous songs such as 'Twilight' and 'Pretty (Ugly Before)' which demonstrate the sophistication that developed in the sixteen years between the two albums. Not presented in chronological order, this will be enough Elliot Smith for most people, too much for some, but it provides a perfect entry point, not simply dredging up the catchiest songs and leaving the albums an incongruous disappointment, giving a true flavour of a great writer who gave so much and had so much more to offer.

Track Listing:-
1 Ballad Of Big Nothing
2 Waltz #2 (XO)
3 Pictures Of Me
4 The Biggest Lie
5 Alameda
6 Between The Bars
7 Needle In The Hay
8 Last Call
9 Angeles
10 Twilight
11 Pretty (Ugly Before)
12 Angel In The Snow
13 Miss Misery (Early Version)
14 Happiness (Single Version)

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