Let it be known, that Elliott Smith was and always will be a great songwriter, and that his death all be it tragic, wasn't necessarily a surprise to anyone who was familiar with his dark, sad songs. I will always cherish any Elliott Smith material I get my hands on. That being said, I want to state before hand that I will not automatically give this album a 10/10 and slap "masterpiece" on it, like some critics have done, seemingly without even listening to it. I will be as objective as possible for the benefit of all who read this.
I am today, and have been since my first listen of Elliott Smith, been an enormous fan. His songs always have an ironic sense to them in the way the music he plays alongside his words is usually quite up-beat and for a lack of a better word, happy, while his lyrics he sings are habitually sad and often times pessimistic. On Smith's latest offering, From a Basement on the Hill, he not surprisingly uses this formula once again.
The first song on the album, "Coast to Coast," was quite bewildering to me. I had never heard Elliott Smith sound so...big. Compared to earlier Smith songs, "Coast to Coast" sounded, with no disrespect to earlier recordings, like a modern, well recorded song, which they paid a lot of money to record. Don't take that the wrong way; however, it is still Elliott Smith sounding, just more powerful.
The fourth track on the album, "Don't Go Down," is yet another of the many surprises on the album. If anyone can't hear Pink Floyd in this song, they need to seriously reconsider listening to music as a past time. I had to mention this, because it is amazing at how much Smith is reaching out in this album to other aspects of interest. No more are the entire albums full of acoustic only material. In its place are powerful, beautiful guitar tones, which make up what could quite possibly be Elliott Smith's White Album. Don't fret, old school Smith fans, there are plenty of acoustic driven ballads, its just that they aren't the main focus on this album.
I will say that I got a little choked up listening to some of these songs while reading the lyrics at the same time. I have to say that the foreshadowing of things to come is in itself sad. The best two songs on the album, "A Fond Farewell" and "King's Crossing" could quite possibly be the most touching and emotionally powerful of any of Smith's songs. In "A Fond Farewell," Smith tells of a "friends" life: "I see you're leaving me and taking up with the enemy, the cold comfort of the in between. A little less than a human being, a little less than a happy high, a little less than a suicide, the only things that you really tried." Smith goes on to say in the chorus, "This is not my life; it's just a fond farewell to a friend. It's not what I'm like; it's just a fond farewell to a friend." It's hard for me to listen to this song and not think that he isn't singing to himself here. In "King's Crossing," Smith actually sings, "I can't prepare for death any more than I already have." Now I'm sure conspiracy theorist and such see this as a blatant sign to what was to come, but Smith has been singing about this type of stuff since the beginning of his career, it is just more tragic and obvious now that he is gone.
A problem if you can call it one would be that there aren't more experimental type songs. I feel as though Elliott branches out more than he ever has on previous releases, but still some of the songs are what I like to call "quick-skip" songs, where they are good songs, but you always skip over them to get to the really good stuff. But I have to admit, even the "quick-skip" songs are reasonably good songs.
I could go on for pages and pages about Elliott Smith and his contributions to
songwriting, but unfortunately I do have a deadline, and limited space. If there is anything truly negative I could say about this album it would be that it is his last one. I will forever miss Elliott Smith's irony and tragic lyrics that helped me become a truly empathetic person over the years. And as Elliott Smith finds his way in the crowd of truly great musicians like Nick Drake, Kurt Cobain, etc, more and more people will experience his greatness and be affected the same way I and many others were. I will truly miss Elliott Smith. He has and will continue to mean a great deal to me and many others around the world.
By Kyle Crawford