Elliott Smith - From a Basement on a Hill
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Feb. 1, 2005
Review by Tony BonyataFor many of indie singer / songwriter Elliott Smith's fans his death, just a little over a year ago, hardly seemed a shock, much less untimely. For years Smith produced beautiful albums that were fraught with despair, loneliness and a sense frail melancholy. But with haunting Beatlesque White Album melodies, a sweet voice and songs that teetered from stark, revealing acoustic productions to neatly contained, unconventional rock arrangements with jarring guitars and disjointed passages, Smith's musical psyche ran much deeper than just that of a man at the end of his tether.
Prior to his presumed suicide (Smith was discovered by his girlfriend in his L.A. home with a knife protruding from his chest) the musician was permitted by his major label Dreamworks Records to shop his sixth full-length album to an independent label of his choice. He selected Anti- Records and it's this label, along with the help of Smith's immediate family and friends aiding in the final production of the album after his death, that has given this talented artist a fitting epitaph with From a Basement on a Hill.
Like much of Smith's previous efforts the bulk of numbers here are prime examples of how musically exquisite his songs could be, despite lyrically confronting the ominous subjects that so often tormented him. "I felt so ugly before, I didn't know what to do," he honestly professes without asking for remorse or sorrow from his listeners (even though it's inescapable) on the gentle "(Pretty) Ugly Before." Even when Smith stands face-to-face with one of his own personal demons (heroin addiction) as he sings, "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" on "Fond Farewell," he carefully wraps his sadness with a lighthearted guitar and chorus that bleeds with hope. Likewise, on the more electrified "Strung Out Again," Smith further sheds light on his inner turmoil when he admits, "I don't know where I am going and I don't even wanna know. I know my place. Hate my face. I know how I begin and how I'll end," while on the spiraling quirky, pop of "King's Crossing" the late-singer cries out, "I can't prepare for death any more than I already have," before he asks "Give me one reason not to do it," yet ultimately pleads by the song's end, "Don't let me get carried away." And it's revelations such as these that are delivered too late in the game that are ultimately the saddest.
Smith does manage to intensify the overall texture of the album with a few edgier left-of center rock offerings such as the infectious opening track "Coast To Coast," "Don't Go Down," a swirling circus of eccentric Syd Barrett-inspired pop, and "Shooting Star, " which juxtaposes Smith's lilting voice over a snarling guitar-line and sinewy, compact rhythm section.
This engaging posthumous release proves nothing we haven't previously felt with the passing of a loved one or those who's work we have admired; parting is always such sweet sorrow.
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