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.