If you have never heard of Elliot Smith, I hope this wakes you up to one of the most underrated songwriters of his time.
While Smith never really ‘hit the main stream’ before his untimely death in 2003, his work remains some of the most introspective and intense music that you will ever hear. You may recognize his voice and music from the soundtrack for Good Will Hunting but, that tune Miss Misery only really scratches the surface.
Originating in the mid-nineties, Smith would be overlooked for years due to the advent of grunge and the ‘Seattle sound’. Focusing on more acoustic and melodic music, he was a pioneer in what has become known as the ‘singer-songwriter’ or ‘folk’ genre so popular today. In fact, it almost seems that he was just a little ahead of his time and is only more recently being discovered.
I’m not sure when I first came across Elliot Smith. I am sure it was near the end of his brief career as I too was caught up in the grunge wave back in the 90’s but I know I heard his music from time to time, always appreciating his clever lyrics and melodic style. The thing I love about Smith’s music is how accessible it is, yet also how complicated it can be. On the surface his music is just basic acoustic pop sometimes enhanced with strings but mostly himself and a guitar. As you dive deeper you find there is an energy and a passion behind his songs that just reaches into your heart and helps it beat. I can’t explain it, it’s really just that good.
Why This Album?
Figure 8 is one of those albums that I like to describe as ‘the perfect album’. This is one of those rare treats that does not have a bad song on it and, the songs it has line up in a fashion that allows the songs to complement and enhance each other. Sure, you can listen to this album out of order or pluck any single song out and enjoy it, but listening to it in a single setting adds another level to it giving you a whole new perspective on these songs. The sad thing is…Figure 8 would be the final album Smith completed while alive making it all that more poignant in his discography.
The album itself feels heavily inspired by another ‘final’ album, Abbey Road, which is ironic as Figure 8 was recorded in the studio of the same name. As if pulling from the same river of inspiration once tapped on by the fab four themselves, Smith manages to create an album filled with melodic and introspective tunes ranging from pop theme songs to sorrowful ballads. No matter the track though, it is a magical album that can sit easily beside that of the Beatles finest works.
The death of Smith is one that remains up for debate. Although ‘ruled’ a suicide, as he had been documented as being suicidal, the events of his death are largly shrouded in mystery with some aspects of it pointing to murder. While we will never really know how it happened or why, the loss of this great talent was certainly a blow to music in general, inspiring not only a whole new generation of fans but a multitude of tribute songs from artists such as Ben Folds and Pearl Jam. Smith is gone, but he will never be forgotten.
Where to begin? Like I said, this is one that should be listened to as a single entity and needs to be for the full effect. However, I still want you to get a taste so maybe you will give it a try yourself. So, Here are two tracks that really show how awesome this album is.
The opening track Son of Sam is about who you think it is, the serial killer of the same name but man is it catchy.
The next one, LA is a perfect Pop tune that is simply blows me away every time I hear it. Just so damned good.
Ok, Where do I get it?
This album is still available and honestly should be included in everyone’s collection. It is a key record that only gets better with age. You can grab a copy here for around $20 or give it a spin on Spotify. It’s amazing and you will love it. Trust that. Just give it a spin and see for yourself.
Late to the Game 8/11/2020
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