Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Elliott Smith - Either/Or

Although Elliott Smith's third album, released in 1997, is a little more fleshed out than his first two, yet it doesn't lose anything quality-wise.  That's due largely to the fact that the songs are generally very strong, and don't outstay their welcome, the whole album lasting just under 37 minutes.  Certainly the opening track Speed Trials, while guitars are accompanied by bass and drum, there's nothing slick about this downbeat little beauty with a lovely, keening vocal from Smith.  Alameda is close as he ever got to strutting, with a loping beat and an almost sprightly guitar solo in the middle.

The next two tracks might well represent the 'heart' of the album.  Two 'soft' tracks, Ballad of Big Nothing has a Beatles gone fatalistic feel about it while the whispered Between the Bars a slow, muted tune that wraps itself around you late at night.  The guitar playing on these songs is recorded fantastically, it's one for the headphones.  After this Pictures of Me is more propulsive and darker, Smith spitting out lyrics about being "so sick and tired of all these pictures of me", and later "who'd like to see me down on my fucking knees".  There's a sort of decaying weariness at the heart of many of these songs.  No Name No. 5 sees him crooning about how "everybody's gone at last".  Later, Cupid's Trick has a similar feel, Smith sounds blasted and shattered singing "it's my life, should've lit me up"

Rose Parade is totally different, sounding more upbeat, you could imagine this one on daytime radio.  Angeles and the appropriately named 2.45 AM are pure late night listening.  Consisting mostly of Elliott Smith's guitar picking, they're the closest thing here to anything on his first two albums.  Overall this album works really well, it won't upset anyone who likes the early stuff but it acts as a bridge between that and his more fleshed out, later material.  Essential.