Elliott Smith: From A Basement on The Hill

Elliott Smith
From A Basement on The Hill

Buying this album a few weeks back was an odd thing. I'd been at the counter of many a music store before buying all of Elliott Smith's albums, but paying for this one was different. Knowing he wouldn't be touring any time soon, knowing there wasn't going to be any radio shows to go with the album, knowing that no acoustic versions of some songs would slowly make their way onto Kazaa or Napster, and knowing that Smith himself wouldn't have a chance to hear all the praise heaped upon him for this great album was a little disconcerting. That said, I consider From a Basement on the Hill to be a beautiful exit for Smith, wonderfully put together and a perfect good-bye from a strong singer regardless of what people say about its production value and "what Smith would have wanted." From the outset, this is pure Smith and that's what I love about it. There’s the heaviness of Heatmeiser in songs like ‘Don’t Go Down’ and ‘King’s Crossing’, and the delicate guitar work in songs such as ‘A Fond Farewell’, ‘Memory Lane’ and ‘Twilight’ that made XO and Either/Or so brilliantly tender. 'King's Crossing' stands out among the rest of the songs, blending Smith's delicate voice, tendency towards fuzzed guitar, and background vocals. Perhaps the album’s strongest song, it shows a real progression in Smith’s tendency towards an orchestral chorus. The chorus erupts into a cymbal-intensize drum smasher and Smith’s declaration that ‘I I don’t care if I fuck up, I’m going on a date with a rich white lady, Ain’t life great.” ‘The Last Hour’ is sure to bring tears to all diehard fans; Smith’s voice is at its most frail point here, pining away to his loved ones not to ‘drag him around, but to just ‘make it over.’ The songs virtually fades into thin air as it comes to a close,. ‘Shooting Star’ breaks out of the silent mode, with heavy hitting drums, scratched-at guitar, and heavy power chords. It sounds more like a jam session that somehow worked more than a composed song, but its reminiscent of Smith’s heavier days. ‘Memory Lane’ comes across as a stoop-written jamboree intended for perhaps friends only, but it somehow creates the image of Smith laughing and drinking with friends. Who knows if he wanted it included or not, but it’s a quirky little concoction that deserves it’s place. As the album ends, I couldn’t help think of all those people who somehow feel as the album isn’t “what Smith wanted” Benjamin Nugent (Smith's biographer) and David McConnell (a friend of Smith who was working on the album with him at the time of his death) can sit around for years and complain about the final product, they can hover in corners talking about Smith's wishes and complain bitterly about the job that Smith's friends did in finalizing the songs. Or, they can get off their high horses and appreciate that they got to work with such a stronger songwriter in the first place, appreciate the time spent with him, and join the rest of the world in recognizing that this is an amazing goodbye.

So now, with a handful of albums, a couple of bootlegs, and a thankfully purchased concert ticket, my time reviewing Elliott Smith albums comes to a close. All good things, some fool once said, must come to an end. Indeed, they must.

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