This was the first Elliott Smith album I had ever listened to, and it's still one of my favourites. When my brother lent me this CD, I'd never heard of the guy, but I was instantly hooked. This review is something of a belated tribute to Elliott Smith, as I've just heard this week about his sad death.
It's a sweetly-arranged album, with Elliott's warm acoustic guitar overlaid by lush strings and piano. If you didn't listen properly to the lyrics--beautifully delivered by his slightly breathy, intimate voice--you might be deceived into thinking that this is a rather jaunty, cheery album. Actually, not all of the songs are depressing; some (like Amity) are warm and upbeat, but even so there's an insistent note of melancholy running through, like the smell of burning leaves and gunpowder in Autumn.
"Independence Day" has a bouncy, lively rhythm concealing the bitterness: "Everybody knows/You only live a day/But it's brilliant anyway." Many of his songs are like this--he sugar-coats the pill. "Waltz &035;1" is a warped, fairground waltz telling the story of being locked in the wrong kind of relationship. "I Didn't Understand" is a lovely a capella song in which Elliott's voice is multi-tracked so that he sings backing harmony with himself. It's a powerful song about the pain of not getting what you need in a relationship. The intimacy of the song works much better if you listen to it on headphones.
I could write for hours about this album, but I think that the track that best epitomises Elliott Smith's music is "Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands". This is a song about the impossibility of seeing the world through someone else's eyes, and he burns with anger over the arrogance of people who assume that they can somehow fix you and make you 'normal' (whatever that might be).
Everybody cares, everybody understands Yes everybody cares about you Yeah and whether or not you want them to It's a chemical embrace that kicks you in the head To a pure synthetic sympathy that infuriates you totally And a quiet lie that makes you wanna scream and shout Here I lay dreaming Looking at the brilliant sun Raining its guiding light upon everyone
You say you mean well, you don't know what you mean Fucking ought to stay the hell away From things you know nothing about
Elliott Smith: 6th August, 1969 - 21st October, 2003