The solitary pain of Elliott Smith has connected with millions world wide and nowhere is it as raw or as sublime as it is on his third album, Either/Or.
Elliott Smith honed his very own style of acoustic-punk, stylistically stripping back the meandering complexities of folk traditions. The chords are simple, melodies tempered and the songs never make it past the 4 minute mark. The simplicity allows the listener unfettered access into Elliot Smith’s emotional state, eschewing extraneous studio production that would only act as a distraction to its human side. There are few artists that allow you deep into their soul like Smith, that lay bare their regrets and fears so candidly.
His pop classicism shines gloriously on the seething Pictures of Me which spits at those who misrepresent him in the media and see his mental health as a marketing strategy (“So sick and tired of these pictures of me/Everybody’s dying just to get the disease), Say Yes, a rare moment of (modulated) light and Between The Bars, a song about alcoholism that plays like a beguiling spell. All are indebted to the Lennon and McCartney’s melodic turns, of which Smith took his inspiration from for the album.
Smith returns to his grunge roots on Cupid’s Trick and on the self-flagellating Almeda, he deals out harsh truths to himself (“Nobody broke your heart/You broke your own because you can’t finish what you start”). 2:45 AM is quintessential bleary eyed Smith, full of anger, addiction and vulnerability.
In 1998 three songs from Either/Or featured on the Oscar winning drama, Good Will Hunting. This spelt the beginning and the end for Smith. An Oscar nomination, two major label albums and global recognition would follow, but his addiction and depression spiralled and 5 years later he was dead, with two self inflicted stab wounds to his chest.
His approachability and honesty is what gave Smith his cult status and Either/Or is him at his most poignant and undiluted.
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