1998, Music

XO (1998) by Elliott Smith

The first time I heard Elliott Smith, on Either/Or, I was underwhelmed. That’s because all throughout my adult life people had been telling me how great he was and, well, hype is awful.

I don’t know what’s changed in between these two records – whether Smith took some kind of leap, or whether I just know what he sounds like now, so my expectations were more measured – but to me this is a much more impressive record.

I’m not sure the songs are clearly better. I did feel like the previous record had pretty strong songs overall, I’m just not sure I felt they were so strong as to have been inundated with “Oh my god Elliott Smith” for over a decade. I don’t know that he’s made any kind of leap in songwriting. Maybe the best songs here are better than the best songs on Either/Or but I really have no idea, having not listened to that record in some time. I suspect they’re roughly equivalent would be my guess.

But its’ the arrangements that are, to me, clearly improved. Smith is too polished for me; his lyrics, to my ears, demand a different approach than he gives them. But here everything is more assured and so whatever feelings I had about the inappropriate arrangements have been swept aside by the energy and feels of these tracks. Though this is still too poppy for me, generally, I feel like the whole record feels so much closer to what I would like it to sound like. (At times he reminds me of a less weird Badly Drawn Boy which, I guess, means Badly Drawn Boy is really a British, more idiosyncratic Elliott Smith, at least in terms of arrangements, if not songwriting.)

Anyway, I like this enough that I actually sort of, kind of see a titch of the hype. I still don’t love the way he performs his songs, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is his best album.


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