Monday, November 1, 2010

An Introduction To... - Elliott Smith

An Introduction To…

Elliott Smith
Kill Rock Stars Records.

SCQ Rating: 80%

In university, I dated someone who kept a picture of Elliott Smith in her wallet. Cut from a magazine sometime during her late-teen years, it pressed firmly between her bills and I.D. as if Elliott was enrolled at a faraway college and I was taking advantage of their long-distance situation. It would be months before that pocket-sized picture was replaced with one of yours truly, but I’m sure he just got shuffled deeper into the wallet’s folds. That’s what Elliott Smith means to so many people; his songs reached out to us as naked and honest confessions and his death immortalized our devotion, the only currency we could reciprocate with. So once the vault-doors have been closed and 2007’s New Moon appears to be the last representation the Smith estate looks willing to impart, we reevaluate the loss of Elliott Smith with the first (of many, I reckon) compilations: An Introduction To….

Cleverly avoiding the impossible task of selecting either a “Greatest Hits” package or “Best Of” controversy, Kill Rock Stars’ Introduction draws from Smith’s entire catalog but most liberally from Either/Or. Alongside fan-favourites ‘Between the Bars’ and ‘Angeles’ sit compulsory sleeper-hits ‘Needle In the Hay’ and ‘Waltz #2’ that fanned Smith’s less committed admirers, the combination forming a first-impression that’s laidback and sorrowful. Then some unexpected selections try to lift the mood, using the charms of ‘The Biggest Lie’ to alleviate some strain and the single edit of ‘Happiness’ as a closer. Of course it’s all for naught because An Introduction To…’s very existence supersedes any narrative melancholy, becoming that fatalistic last straw to remind us that Smith’s canon is recyclable but asphyxiated. The best Kill Rock Stars can do is offer a collection versatile enough to promote Elliott Smith as a timeless songwriter and they accomplish this easy task without dwelling on much of the material that foreshadowed his demise.

As with any compilation, introduction or not, there will be discourse about sequencing and omissions. The disc avoids the chronological route, thereby ruling out any uneven weighing between Smith’s move from lo-fi troubadour to major-label orchestrator. I’d have made some alternate choices, like ‘Roman Candle’ instead of ‘Last Call’ or ‘Alphabet Town’ over ‘Alameda’, but everyone will differ over the best fourteen puzzle-pieces to reassemble a complicated songwriter. Hell, I’m certain many people will balk at the allocation of ‘Twilight’ or ‘Angel In the Snow’ where ‘Christian Brothers’ might’ve stood, but I’m happy they’re included, and those differing opinions all vindicate An Introduction To…’s primary intention. Elliott Smith’s catalog remains too colorful and powerful to be distilled within an hour’s listen. When dealing with a fan-base that holds their songwriter's music tight to their chests and occasionally tucked within their wallets, An Introduction To…’s saving grace is that Kill Rock Stars never try to tie a bow on his saga.

No comments: