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Old 01-27-2007, 12:29 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Elliott Smith - Either/Or (1997, Kill Rockstars Records)



Tracklisting
1. Speed Trials
2. Alameda
3. Ballad Of Big Nothing
4. Between The Bars
5. Pictures Of Me
6. No Name #5
7. Rose Parade
8. Punch And Judy
9. Angeles
10. Cupid's Trick
11. 2.45am
12. Say Yes


Review
For whatever reason, singer/songwriters grow on trees. Being a dabbler myself I understand why. Its simply a matter of its simplicity and accessibility. To be a singer/songwriter you neither have to be the greatest singer or greatest instrumentalist in the world or within your own household even (just ask Martha Wainwright.) What you do need though is a story to tell or some thoughts to share, thoughts on life, love, death whatever. A short period of time spent getting fluid at basic chord changes and you're pretty much ready to go. Sounds simple doesnt it. It should be but for every Chan Marshall or Bob Dylan there are thousands of James Blunts, KT Tunstalls or Joan Baez's. Between these two extremes of good and bad you will find people like Elliott Smith.

Either/Or came out in 1997 on Kill Rock Stars records. The fact that a quiet, lo-fi album by yet another shy and sensitive guy with a guitar came out on that label is surprising in itself because Kill Rock Star was basically the home for the Riott Grrl movement in the early '90s, surprising because of the obvious stylistic differences and also surprising in that a label with a history of releasing ****ty music by ****ty bands in the name of supporting a ****ty movement that was **** and essentially misdirected to begin with would eventually get around to actually releasing something good. I doubt I will ever be a truly massive fan of Elliott Smith but it is early days yet and just about anything can happen between now and eternity.

In terms of songwriting, I must admit that I at times find Smith to be a dodgy lyricist. Lines like "You walk down Alameda shuffling your deck of trick cards over everyone / Like some precious only son / Face down / Bow to the champion" ("Alameda") read a bit like bad poetry to me but there arent too many of these moments. At times in fact he conjures up some very effective and evocative lines as in the opening lines of "Punch & Judy" ("A walflower Punch talks to Judy / In a crowded corner where anybody can listen in"). As a melodist however he's great, creating some great catchy tunes that flow really well. In fact he never fails on any of Either/Or's 12 songs to create structured, catchy tunes that flow well and are pleasant to the ear. He pretty much doesnt put a foot wrong as a tunesmith.

Smith played every instrument on the album himself and where he truly shines is as an arranger. The cliche about Smith is that his records are sparse and low key and this is true simply because Smith seemingly knows instinctively what part to play and when. Little subtle details are often what make these songs what they are, the best example being the subtle, gentle guitar melodies on "Rose Parade" and "Say Yes." Its no coincidence that both of these songs are the album's highpoints. He really is that good as an arranger. As for Smith's voice it has a very nice and comforting timbre. The turmoil and hardships that Smith went through in his short life arent evident in hs singing style which is simple and quiet, I imagine like the man himself was. The only real exception to the quiet slow rules philosophy is "Cupid's Trick", yet another example of Smith's exceptional talents as an arranger, this time building and releasing tension through the electric guitars.

In summing up Id say that Smith's talents as an arranger and producer far outstrip his talents as a lyricist. Tunesmith, producer and arranger first, lyricist second. Its a shame he isnt still alive and then he could have worked a bit of the old Elliott Smith magic on other people's records too.
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Old 01-27-2007, 12:34 PM   #2 (permalink)
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The part about the label was pretty cool, along with your uptake on his poetry.
You could have made some specific song suggestions though, and gave a more in-depth view of every song on the album, not just the ones that supported your statement about his poetry.
Overall, 6.5/10
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Old 01-27-2007, 12:35 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Snickers View Post
The part about the label was pretty cool, along with your uptake on his poetry.
You could have made some specific song suggestions though, and gave a more in-depth view of every song on the album, not just the ones that supported your statement about his poetry.
Overall, 6.5/10
Is that rating for my review or for the album?
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Old 01-27-2007, 12:44 PM   #4 (permalink)
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For the review.
I'd rate the album 8.5/10, great work of music.
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Old 01-27-2007, 01:02 PM   #5 (permalink)
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It's not that surprising that this album came out on Kill Rock Star Records. They signed Elliott the same time they were changing their sound.
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Old 01-27-2007, 03:01 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Only half this is actually a review of the album, thats basically my only problem with it. Its good though.
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Old 01-27-2007, 03:06 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Crowquill View Post
Only half this is actually a review of the album, thats basically my only problem with it. Its good though.
I always like to give a little bit of background or context because I think its helps set up the review better.
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Old 03-09-2007, 08:58 AM   #8 (permalink)
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good review, i only disagree with the lyrics comment and the not showing his turmoils thru his voice, i found that his voice is soft and such because of his problems and turmoils and shows them better than others manage to ( emo
s and screamers and all those over emotional peopl)

but kudos
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