Record Review: “An Introduction to Elliott Smith”

by Dave Carew

“Why would you want any other, when you’re a world within a world?”

– – Elliott Smith

I love Elliott Smith’s music so much that the thought of a single album sufficing as an “Introduction” to his work was initially a turn-off. I thought to myself, “How can you possibly create a sufficient ‘introduction’ to an artist who was this important, this indelible, who produced all those masterpieces?” But the word “indelible” is, after all, about remembrance, so I found myself, in the next moment, moving toward gratitude that someone (in this case, the record label Kill Rock Stars) was doing something to keep Elliott’s beautiful, haunting music alive.

In a piece published three years ago by the Nashville rock magazine Shake!, I tried to encapsulate why, to me, Elliott Smith is such an important artist. I wrote:

“[A] key aspect of Elliott Smith’s [art] is his stunning willingness to take off ‘the male mask.’ Time after time, listening to Smith’s songs, one is struck by his extraordinary bravery in openly exploring male grief, loneliness, vulnerability, frustration, and anger. In doing so, he is the antithesis of everything we associate with the slick, macho rock star.

“Elliott Smith once said his art was an attempt to convey ‘what it’s like to be a person.’ It was his special gift for voicing otherwise unvoiced feelings—particularly those resting in lonely, often alienated men—that helped give his [music] such distinct, surpassing power.”

As Anthony Davis of Expunged Records writes in the liner notes of the tribute album To Elliott, from Portland, “To his fans, Elliott was someone who told your sad story and made you feel like you were not alone. He took your desperation, your toils and torments, and he made them beautiful, and in doing so he made you beautiful.”

Elliott Smith committed suicide on October 21, 2003 at the age of 34, but not before offering the world the 14 magnificent songs on this album. If you care about what the singer/songwriter’s art can be—in its ability to paint impressions of a beautiful and painful world and make those impressions the soul’s elegy—come here. Discover a world within a world.

David M. (Dave) Carew is editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter.” He also is a freelance book editor, publicist, and copywriter.




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