Day π: Elliott Smith – Elliott Smith

8 Jan

Needle in the Hay

This is one of those records with a cover that you’ve seen a million times.  Maybe, like me, you’ve never gotten around to listening to this particular album, but I guarantee that you’ve seen that artwork before.  However, if you’re like me, that doesn’t mean that you’ve actually seen that artwork before.  I’ve never really looked at it until now—this is often the case with music that I haven’t listened to.  Is that cover bleak, or what?  It fits perfectly with the music inside, but, man, it sure feels devoid of hope.

Elliott Smith’s 1995 self-titled release makes even the most beautiful of days rainy.  It doesn’t matter what disposition you’re in—after you listen to this thing, you’re going to be depressed.  In a way, it kind of foreshadows the singer’s death (which was probably a suicide).  These are songs that only could have been recorded by a person with some major demons.

Sure, Smith’s lyrics are dark enough—on this album alone, he sings all about his problems with alcohol, drug addiction, and depression—but those aren’t what give this music it’s inescapable dark tinge.  This is the man who Conor Oberst emulates, but Oberst can’t touch the sincerity of Smith’s music.  The lyrics are dark enough, but it really is Smith’s delivery that pushes everything over the edge.  The man sounds like he’s pouring everything he’s got into every word, and he very well may have been.  That delicate voice over the dark-but-sweet guitar is one hell of a depressing combo.

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7 Responses to “Day π: Elliott Smith – Elliott Smith”

  1. Yuanny Dollar January 9, 2012 at 5:43 am #

    Day pi. I get it. Good one. Not my kind of album, but the song is still stuck in my head. Sad and haunting. The album cover — creepy, given the back story.

  2. "Old" Dave Chops January 9, 2012 at 8:40 am #

    J$ – try to get the creepiness out of your head after listening to it as used in The Royal Tannenbaums: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pyBB7y8fDU&feature=related – and that is why the Sad Kermit version is just WRONG: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oEYMGL0ZtA&feature=related . We need to see more policing of the interweb. I hear they are working on this in Washington even as we type…

    BTW, our friend Mr. Rutstein is a big Elliot Smith fan, if I am not mistaken.

    • "Old" Dave Chops January 9, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

      ..as an aside to Mr. Ear, the Sad Kermit clip led me to another one that might illustrate for you why Ray Charles is great: his duet with Kermit of It’s Not Easy Being Green http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5rceMe-kt4&feature=related recorded when Ray was still in good voice. If that does it for you, maybe give a listen to Ray Sings, Basie Swings recorded the same year – at least Ray was. The band was recorded more than 30 years later.

    • Neal Knuckles Rutstein January 10, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

      As long as we’re appreciating sincerity, let’s not overlook (overhear?) the unselfconsciously audible screeches Smith’s calloused fingertips make as he changes chords. It’s like you’re in the same room, though not, obviously, on the one day he really could have used you. Also, I am surprised Chops doesn’t recommend Jonathan Richman as an antidote to a gloominess so overwhelming Smith stabbed himself (if we’re to believe the coroner’s report) in the chest not once but twice. Now that’s dedication. Speaking of soulful singers, why not Neil Young? And, for fuller orchestrations, you could do worse than Steely Dan. However, if you’ve fulfilled your geezer quota, I’d recommend The Magnetic Fields.

  3. Yuanny Dollar January 10, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    I had forgotten that scene from the Royal Ts — adding to the hauntingness. Thanks. The Kermit, however, is pretty damn funny and almost made me feel better.

  4. Yuanny Dollar January 10, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    And, by the way, I have tried to engage NR. We’ll see if he chimes in.

    • Dave Chops January 10, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

      This is just sad. Mr. Ear’s vibrant and youthful blog has now been officially hijacked by Carleton grads of the 1980’s.
      Can an appearance by Scott “Pusq” Porter be far off? My deepest sympathies go out to Swole. Plus Knuckles makes me feel ashamed. He was decent enough to hip me to Jonathan Richman’s brilliant “Surrender to Jonathan”. My failure to put that on my list of suggested albums is inexcusable and deprived you of the pleasure of listening to “I Was Dancing At the Lesbian Bar”. Try to forgive and forget.

      Plus he is right in all of his recommendations. Welcome to Swole Ear, Mr. Rutstein. It is nice to hear from you.

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