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Elliott Smith - From A Basement on the Hill


Review: Jack Foley

THE tragic melancholy which prevailed throughout much of Elliott Smith's life is rife within his final, posthumous album, From A Basement on the Hill, whch should serve to ensure that the legacy of his musical brilliance lives on.

Smith first began writing and recording songs at the age of 14, but it wasn't until film director, Gus Van Sant, selected his track, Miss Misery, for the soundtrack of his Oscar-winning movie, Good Will Hunting, that he finally began to achieve the awareness his talent warranted.

The song in question was also Academy Award-nominated, but lost out to Celine Dion's hopelessly slushy Titanic winner, which hasn't aged at all well.

The single's success did provide a platform for Smith to produce another two albums, in the form of the critically-acclaimed XO and Figure 8, making his latest, From A Basement On The Hill, keenly-anticipated.

Sadly, however, the artist never lived to see it completed, as he tragically took his own life on October 21, 2003, at the age of 34, to the shock of friends and fans alike.

Needless to say, interest surrounding the new album heightened considerably in light of his fate, but it would be a shame if it became remembered for the wrong reasons.

For the album contains enough moments of songwriting brilliance to make listeners realise what a tremendous loss the music industry had suffered when Smith took his own life.

Epic in scope and containing all the folk-punk, indie qualities we had come to expect from the artist, the album unfolds in typically rousing fashion, with the grunge-influenced Coast to Coast, before taking us on a musical odyssey which occasionally screams out with the anxieties Smith must have been feeling while writing.

Some of the song titles, alone, contain an added emotional resonance, with tracks such as A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Free and A Fond Farewell - one of its highlights.

But the album is in no way depressing. Don't Go Down, for instance, is about a particularly memorable girl, while Strung Out Again reflects on a guilty pleasure.

Some of the songs assume a Beatles-esque quality, while others provoke comparisons with the smooth vocals of Simon & Garfunkel or the acoustic guitar brilliance of Turin Brakes. The Finn brothers also get a look in.

So, if you like any of those artists, then there's something here for you.

Twilight is another of the album's quietly affecting highlights, while the weeping guitars of A Passing Feeling provide a terrific backdrop to Smith's laidback vocal style.

Smith's melodic dexterity is also on display in contrasting tracks such as the indie-rooted guitar riffs of Shooting Star and the gentle chords of Little One, which could almost be a lullaby.

While the delightfully enchanting Pretty (Ugly Before) simply epitomises Smith at his best - and you can't help but lament his untimely passing.

Make no mistake, this album is as much a glorious swansong as it is a fond farewell.

 

 

Track listing:
1. Coast to Coast
2. Let's Get Lost
3. Pretty (Ugly Before)
4. Don't Go Down
5. Strung Out Again
6. Fond Farewell
7. King's Crossing
8. Ostriches & Chirping
9. Twilight
10. A Passing Feeling
11. Last Hour
12. Shooting Star
13. Memory Lane
14. Little One
15. A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free

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