XO (1998) – Elliott Smith

xo

Day in the life of Elliott.

Elliott makes it big with his lo-fi feeling-shitty ditty “Miss Misery”, which having been featured in Good Will Hunting (1997) takes him to the Oscars. But where to go from here for a post-grunge boy wonder? Why to a bigger studio of course and it’s there he begins the second and last phase of his career: the I-love-The-Beatles one. It’s not as trite as that sounds though and he’s seemingly the only man to pull that off. The upped production on XO is flawless; yes the rough edges many coveted are missed, but what’s this- has his singing improved? Yup’, definitely seems so. All these changes are apparent in first track “Sweet Adeline” which starts off deceptively straight-forward with Smith and acoustic, but beautifully culminates in a powerful crescendo of overdubs. He’s still gloomy, but seems to have nailed the bittersweet sentiment with dark lyrics married to a brighter sound than we were accustomed to on his last three albums. These trends continue in even better songs “Tomorrow Tomorrow” and “Waltz #2”. It’s all going well and then “Baby Britain” comes along like a lost b-side. Suddenly it’s all over and there will be no new classic, not this year folks. Not that the song is hideous; it’s not. It’s just not great and isn’t slight enough to escape scrutiny, whereas one of his lo fi numbers might have been. Nothing else as garishly clunky comes to pass, but this is the only Smith album with quite a bit of filler. “Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands”, whilst having some neat chord changes is ultimately one of these many shortcomings; after all, this adolescent ode-to-whatever refrain of the title is unforgivable from a poet who’s usually more romantic in his crypticness than in his banality. There are some more bright spots like the acoustic funk of “Independence Day”, but then “Bled White” emerges as something alarmingly ordinary. Still, an Elliott Smith album with padding is still an Elliott Smith album and he was always more attentive to detail than most. Smith would become more coherent again with later releases and this is by no means forgettable.

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