In a brief discussion of Sufjan Stevens, my brother had mentioned that I had not done Elliot Smith on the blog… Sadly, I realized that both have been left out, so I am doubly bad today. Well…
Fear not. Redemption is at hand.
I think I discovered Elliot Smith on KCRW. I know for a fact it was before all the hoopla of Good Will Hunting. Not that there is anything wrong with hoopla, but you know I do not like to jump on a bandwagon… Well, actually some band wagons are a lot of fun… a never-ending party… actually people should jump on bandwagons more often…
The success of that film and an Academy Award nomination in 1998 for his song “Miss Misery”… “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic won… whatever… pushed him into the spotlight. This was a place that seemed to reward and torment Smith… His life always seemed to be a contradiction… just as this record makes me happy and smile and at the same time, so sad. That was the state of his music as well… moody and sad and complicated… but also so simple and beautiful. He opened the door for so many artists and is still greatly missed.
Smith’s death is still an unsolved mystery… Did he stab himself twice… or did his wife do it??? Will we even know??? Tragic and frustrating, as is the case with so many musical tales.
But at least there is the music…
Elliot Smith – XO
If you stripped some Beatles songs down, you might actually hear a lot of this record… There is obviously that influence… but clearly a sound uniquely Elliot Smith. There would be others who would come after him… and he did chart a path… but his voice and sound still stands out!
Or you are welcome to enjoy my favorite track from the record… “Baby Britain”.
AllMusic says: “A year before his major-label debut, XO, was released, it seemed unlikely that Elliott Smith would even be on a major, let alone having his record be one of the more anticipated releases of 1998. He had certainly earned a great deal of critical respect with his low-key, acoustic indie records and was emerging as a respected songwriter, but he hadn’t made much of an impression outside of journalists, record collectors, and indie rockers. An Oscar nomination can change things, however. “Miss Misery,” one of Smith’s elegantly elegiac songs for Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting, unexpectedly earned an Academy Award nomination, and he was immediately thrust into the spotlight. He was reluctant to embrace instant celebrity, yet he didn’t refuse a contract with DreamWorks, and he didn’t shy away from turning XO into a glorious fruition of his talents. Smith’s songs remain intensely introspective, yet the lush, Beatlesque production provides a terrifically charming counterpoint. His sweetly dark melodies are vividly brought to life with the detailed arrangements, and they sell Smith’s tormented songs — it’s easy to get caught up in the tunes and the sound of the record, then realize later what the songs are actually about. That’s a sign of a good craftsman, and XO proves that not only can Elliott Smith craft a song, but he knows how to make an alluring pop record as well.”
“… Smith also composed a handful of new songs for the soundtrack, among them “Miss Misery,” and when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its Oscar nominations the following February, the track was a surprise entry in the Best Original Song category. Although he did not win, Smith performed the song live at the televised Oscar broadcast, appearing on-stage alongside superstarsTrisha Yearwood and Celine Dion in one of the most notably surreal musical moments in recent memory. Smith’s DreamWorks label debut,XO, followed later in 1998. Two years later he delivered Figure 8, which delved further into lush arrangements and orchestrations. For the next two years, Smith labored over what was to be his next album, From a Basement on a Hill. He would not live to see the album’s completion, however.”
To the shock of friends and fans alike, Smith’s body was found on October 21, 2003, with two stab wounds in his chest. To date, the coroner has been unable to determine the cause of death, and the Los Angeles Police Department’s investigation remains open. From a Basement on a Hill was released one year later, just two days shy of the first anniversary of his death, and received warm critical nods. In 2007, the Kill Rock Stars label issued a two-disc set of Smith’s unreleased work, all of which had been recorded between 1994 and 1997. Entitled New Moon, the 24-track collection contained three songs that had been previously released on hard to find compilations or soundtracks, including an early version of “Miss Misery” and a cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen”.