Sunday, November 1, 2015

Album Review: Elliott Smith - New Moon

I have to admit I approached this one with caution.  Posthumous releases reek of exploitation, as memorably detailed in The Smiths' Paint A Vulgar Picture.  However for anyone enthralled by the earlier, more stripped down Elliott Smith releases this is a wonder.  Twenty four unreleased tracks is a treasure trove in any fan's language.  It opens with the slow deliberate guitar picking of Angel In The Snow, where Smith sings in a ghostly whisper.  Talking To Mary and Looking Over My Shoulder are in a similar, unhurried vein.  None of this would be particularly interesting if the melodies weren't so strong.  Any so-called 'pop' band would kill for these tunes, they are consistently original and unpredictable.  High Times builds gradually to an intense climax of Smith croaking "high times" over urgently strummed guitar.

It's not all quiet, acoustic tracks.  New Monkey is one of the more fleshed-out tracks here, featuring electric guitar, bass, drums and a soaring, singalong chorus,   One track which has appeared elsewhere is an early embryonic version of Miss Misery.  And the one cover here, Big Star's Thirteen is rendered in a faithful, almost child-like version.

The second CD is arguably not as strong but still has its fair share of gems.  The impassioned strum of Georgia, Georgia would have fitted on Smith's earliest albums, while the frantic strum of Big Decision and the introspective sleigh-bells (!) of Seen How Things Are Hard are a less than comfortable listen.  Elsewhere there are the fragile, fingerpicked Placeholder and New Disaster, along with fuller, band tracks like Fear City and Either/Or.  Towards the end, Almost Over showcases his guitar dexterity, here he manages Nick Drake-like skills on one of the finer tracks here, all dispatched in two minutes.  

It's a great service to Elliott Smith fans that these tracks were unearthed, and this collection is as worthwhile as anything else in his catalogue.