Author Topic: The brilliance of Elliott Smith  (Read 1181 times)

Nowhere Man

  • Life is just a bowl of life cereal
The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« on: May 24, 2021, 02:57:45 AM »
It's 2:45 in the morning*



Hopefully by this point everybody and your granny on bongos knows just how wonderful Elliott Smith is, and just how chockful of great tunes he was. He’s one of those artists who aura seems to become more and more mysterious the more time goes on. Music that seems to attract a certain type of audience I guess. By that I mean, well he’s certainly much more down to earth than yer Bono’s, Jacko’s and Drake’s.

Having a strong inclination towards melancholy since as far back as I can remember, i’ve certainly felt a special type of affinity with him. The lonesome troubadour, the sad loner disassociating from reality, unhealthy relationships with drugs and alcohol ect.. Bedsit music. Maybe it's not always the case for everyone, but i’ve certainly related to him for those sorts of reasons. I suppose because I found him at a particularly low point in my life when I was 19 and strongly convinced of dropping out of Uni. But from ‘Twilight’ to ‘Say Yes’ to ‘Independence Day’, his music catalog has always been sort of a comfort blanket for me. It’s a huge cliche, but the way he wrote and the way he just was seemed so relatable to someone like me who just felt so different from the rest of the crowd.

He was so intuitive and he had such a clear idea of how to articulate his creativity, and on an emotional level I suppose I will always feel a great affinity with him. Even though I was too young to even know about him when he was actually alive. It’s music so sincere that it just makes you want to pour your heart out. He’s the type of artist who reminds me time and time again of everything it is that I love about music.

I must have listened to the Figure 8 album about 100 times when I used to walk to and from uni. His music just made me feel so much less alone when I was at my most lost. It also led to me discovering a whole bunch of my favourite music of a similar vein such as Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley, Big Star ect. My life has had a lot of ups and downs since I was 19, and I guess the mental health issues are still an ongoing concern, but i’ve always came back to Elliott when i’ve needed that particular comfort.



*Okay fine, it's 2:57, but I couldn't fucking resist, could I?

Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #1 on: May 24, 2021, 10:32:26 AM »
There was a Great Lives about him on Radio 4 last week. Much of it was quite cringey with only Arlo Parks coming out of it well.

Ballad of Ballard Berkley

  • a hopeless vanity... a stupefyingly futile conceit
Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #2 on: May 24, 2021, 01:59:36 PM »
That was a lovely post, Nowhere Man.

Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #3 on: May 24, 2021, 02:31:27 PM »
What about my post?

Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #4 on: May 24, 2021, 02:38:59 PM »
So rude.

Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #5 on: May 24, 2021, 02:40:56 PM »
Review this, mister telly man.


Ballad of Ballard Berkley

  • a hopeless vanity... a stupefyingly futile conceit
Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #6 on: May 24, 2021, 02:58:29 PM »
Everything you've posted in this thread has been pure gold. Please accept a full five stars.

HAPPY NOW?!

Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #7 on: May 24, 2021, 04:12:36 PM »
Manners maketh telly man.

Was listening to that Domino 'An Introduction to' compilation earlier, and it's a bit rubbish, isn't it? No Speed Trials, Rose Parade, Say Yes, only one from XO...

turnstyle

  • His wife doesn't like the Sarcastic Butlers
Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #8 on: May 24, 2021, 04:47:32 PM »
Got into Elliott Smith around the XO period, with my girlfriend at the time. We both loved his work unconditionally, and as such I have really strong memories attached to those albums now. XO and Either/Or are just perfect to me. In fact, I think I'll give them a listen tonight.

The most bizarre moment for me of being an Elliott Smith fan was sitting in the cinema with my kids watching the Lego Movie 2, and he gets a name check in the (admittedly great) credits song, Everything's Not Awesome.

'I think I finally get Radiohead'
'Bro, you should check out Elliott Smith!'

Such a weird moment that totally took me out of a film about cutesy plastic figures, with that line spoken by Batman, no less. Hey, remember that introspective guy that killed himself and wrote sad songs, LOL!


Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #9 on: May 24, 2021, 07:28:25 PM »
I once walked down Alameda listening to Alameda. No one shuffling trick cards at all. Swiz.

Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #10 on: May 24, 2021, 08:11:36 PM »
Anyone seen the documentary?

Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #11 on: May 24, 2021, 08:23:54 PM »
Anyone seen the documentary?

I've seen it a couple of times. It's a bit dry.

The Mollusk

  • guaranteed tremendous
Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #12 on: May 24, 2021, 09:30:40 PM »
Every time I find myself drunk and alone I always ending up sticking Elliott on and wanting to blow my brains out. It’s a special kind of indulgence, people who don’t like his music wouldn’t understand.

“Everything Reminds Me of Her” is one that cuts particularly deep. Musically the guitar work sounds like a resolute shrug of the shoulders, “yeah I’m miserable about it, so fucking what”, it’s not so much mopey as it is outwardly surly, and once he starts singing his voice and lyrics mirror that sentiment perfectly. It’s depression and loneliness, resigned to being unhappy, pushing people away because they don’t understand. I can relate to it so much and it breaks my heart with every listen.

Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #13 on: May 25, 2021, 10:24:36 PM »
I bought xo last year after hearing a song on bb6...I should probably listen to it more. I did give it a go. I wasn't expecting the sunny melodies

famethrowa

  • mere rhetorical frippery
Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #14 on: May 26, 2021, 12:14:29 AM »
With Elliott, I feel I'm not supposed to like the "hits" best, but I do.... Son Of Sam is tops, Baby Britain is great, veering into Macca Beatles/Welcome Back Kotter territory, and top of the pile is Waltz #2, excellent chord progression and fantastic lyrics, despite the woeful 2nd half of the 2nd verse. Captures the spirit of being a self-conscious pub singer so well. But also "Everything Means Nothing To Me" which spirals away with some lovely showy piano.

Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #15 on: June 05, 2021, 08:05:40 AM »
In "Clementine", both times the lyrics of "Oh my darling, Clementine" are used they're supposed to be being heard: first as sung by the barman and then going around the head of the 'you' who wants to keep them away. But the melody is this song's own - unrealistic - one and so the conceptual melody of that lament and the audible melody of this song meet where the sorrow for the daughter drowning in the lament expresses the character's own worries about his relationship. The idea of a kind of drowning in a relationship recurs in "Sweet Adeline": 'Cut this picture into you and me/ Burn it backwards, kill this history/ Make it over, make it stay away/ Or hate'll sing the ending that love started to say [...] Sweet Adeline/ Sweet Adeline/ My Clementine/ Sweet Adeline'. Are there many descriptive songs that use existing lyrics as dramatically being sung or heard but don't follow the original song's melody? I think it's a really good thing, well done mate if you're up there.

There are a lot of songs that describe a compelling 'you' in the present on that self-titled album. 'Your hand on his arm/ haystack charm around your neck'; 'They're waking you up to close the bar/ Street's wet you can tell by the sound of the cars'; 'Killing a southern belle is all you know how to do'; 'Single file/ You're a murder mile/ You idiot kid/ Your arm's got a death in it'; 'While the moon does its division/ You're buried below/ And you're coming up roses everywhere you go/ Red roses follow'; 'While the hands are pointing up midnight/ You're a question mark coming after people you watched collide'; 'She probably won't say you're wrong/ But you're already wrong/ You're already wrong/ And you threw up whatever she shot down'; 'You can do it if you want to/ You can do it if you want to/ You can do it if you want to be like me'; 'You wake up in the middle of the night/ From a dream you won't remember flashing on like a cop's light'. Often the songs then shift to sing about an I and he/she, introducing other characters or changing perspective.

I think this now looks conventionally 'emo', where the 'you' sometimes seems like Elliott Smith being addressed by himself from outside or being the subject of remembered insults from others; sometimes like an invented character; and usually allowing the listener to feel addressed and identify with the singer through this.

On the first album, Roman Candle, by contrast, a lot of the songs begin with focus on a he and she in narrative or ballad form: 'He played himself/ Didn't need me to give him hell'; 'She took the Oldsmobile out past Condor Avenue/ And she locked the car and slipped past';  'At a party he was waiting/ Looking kind of spooky and withdrawn'; 'She whispered quiet terror news/ He didn't give a hoot'; 'He looks all wrong, but that's her alright'; 'For a change she got out/ Before he hurt her bad'; 'Last call, he was sick of it all'.

Either/Or has fewer lyrics like this: 'A wallflower punch talks to Judy'; and more like the self-titled album: 'You walk down Alameda/ Shuffling your deck of trick cards over everyone'; 'You're sitting around at home now waiting for your brother to call'; but the voice singing to the 'you' is often engaging with the listener rather than describing its situation: 'Drink up, baby, stay up all night/ With the things you could do, you won't but you might'; 'Start, stop and start'; 'So glad you meet you/ Angeles'. "Rose Parade" reverses the usual roles: 'You asked me to come down and watch the parade... Won't you follow me down to the Rose Parade?', "Speed Trials" relates the you to a he: 'He's pleased to meet you underneath the horse/ In the cathedral with the glass stained black'; and the last two songs are exeptionally lyrical: 'I'm going out sleepwalking/ Where mute memories start talking'; 'I'm in love with the world/ through the eyes of a girl/ who's still around the morning after.'  In the later albums, there are more of these comparatively straightforward I and you lyrical songs, reflecting on emotions or singing to someone or something - the listener wouldn't closely identify with - about a past or present relationship.

The easily listener-interpreted 'you' type of address of the self-titled album and Either/Or is the one used in "Ballad of Big Nothing": 'You're sitting around at home now waiting for your brother to call... You can do what you want to whenever you want to'. So I think Elliott Smith considered this a ballad style, rather than a disguised lyrical style. And it really became an emo cliché in simple lyrical 'you' songs without intermediary characters like the 'you' with a brother or the 'you' drinking yourself into slo mo and painting an angel in the snow to keep the song out of your mind; focussing on the already familiar feelings of the singer and listener made intimate in the 'you' style. In this context, it's interesting that Elliott Smith covered The Beatles' "For no one", an outstanding second-person narrative song:

Your day breaks, your mind aches
You find that all her words of kindness linger on
When she no longer needs you
She wakes up, she makes up
She takes her time and doesn't feel she has to hurry
She no longer needs you
And in her eyes, you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years
You want her, you need her
And yet you don't believe her
When she says her love is dead
You think she needs you
And in her eyes, you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years
You stay home, she goes out
She says that long ago she knew someone
But now he's gone, she doesn't need him
Your day breaks, your mind aches
There will be times when all the things she said will fill your head
You won't forget her
And in her eyes, you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years

Elliott Smith's cover of "For No One"

I think "Clementine" is the only Elliott Smith song with its tuning, but it's similar to the step-down tuning he often used with two small changes. I like the melisma on 'just didn't say so' and 'dreadful sorry' and 'clementine'.

Clementine

kalowski

  • Maclunkey
Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #16 on: June 05, 2021, 04:34:47 PM »
Saw him (must have been the tour to support XO) in Manchester, at the Academy (I think it was the middle size one).
He was brilliant.
Was devastated when he ended his own life. Beautiful music.

Dirty Boy

  • We awful awful crawl
Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #17 on: June 05, 2021, 07:17:24 PM »
To my knowledge i've never heard a note of this tragic fellow's music[1], but i will investigate based on the assumption that his late night miserablist laments will be something that would be right up the street of someone who is into Drake/Waits/Cave/Cohen/Tindersticks type stuff.

Is Figure 8 the best place to start then?
 1. just reading his wiki. Fucking hell.

Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #18 on: June 05, 2021, 07:30:43 PM »
Figure 8 was his last album and has more instruments and a bigger power pop sound. I'd recommend Elliott Smith or Either/Or first.

famethrowa

  • mere rhetorical frippery
Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #19 on: June 06, 2021, 12:37:38 AM »
Yes probably the older albums if you're looking for the darker stuff. Some of the later tunes even get a bit fun!

But to bring the mood down again, isn't the story pretty much that his girlfriend killed him and got away with it?

Re: The brilliance of Elliott Smith
« Reply #20 on: June 06, 2021, 12:30:45 PM »
Manners maketh telly man.

Was listening to that Domino 'An Introduction to' compilation earlier, and it's a bit rubbish, isn't it? No Speed Trials, Rose Parade, Say Yes, only one from XO...

It is kinda good as an introduction though. I agree it should have more from XO. Annd probably more 'band' songs. Though it already has 5 songs from Either/Or on it so anymore might be pushing it. I'd definitely put 'Baby Britain', 'Son Of Sam', 'Everything Means Nothing to Me' on it. Plus the official version of 'Miss Misery'.

Tags: