Lonely Leered

Figure 8 by Elliott Smith

I've been an Elliott Smith fan for a many years now, though unfortunately I'm one of those people who only began to listen to Elliott Smith posthumously (the first song I ever heard was "A Fond Farewell" when it first came out). And if anything, one of the greatest things about his music is that it continues to grow on you, whether it is the first time you've heard it or the 18th.

Figure 8 is a deeply personal album for me; songs like "Somebody that I Used to Know" or "Easy Way Out" just deeply resonated with me (who could ever ignore the lines "I had tender feelings that you made hard/But it's your heart, not mine, that's scarred" or the lines "There's no escape for you except in someone else/Although you've already disappeared within yourself"). And so before starting, I sat myself down and read each lyric, I looked up some interviews of him discussing the album, and I read Pitchfork's review. And with such a scathing review in mind, it seems a strange wonder that Smith's album should show up as one of Pitchfork's favorite albums of the past decade.

And the only reason is this: it takes a while for it to sink in. Elliott Smith intended for the songs to have a lack of regard for musical styles, influences, reactions, or anything else -- they were what interested him, and pigeonholing-be-damned, they were on this record. Naturally upon first listen, songs like "In the Lost and Found (Honky Bach)" might have come off as simply strange, random songs with retarded instrument choices.

But the most interesting part of Figure 8 is its immediate intimacy and subtle distance; the warm guitars and an absence of over-production makes the songs inviting, while impressionistic and somewhat less personal lyrics work to make the lyrics less autobiographical and personal and more mass appeal.

Listening to an album many years after the artists' death is much different from experiencing it the first time (which is why I can understand Pitchfork's original review). It's easy to get caught up in the tragedy of his death, or the hardships he faced while he was alive -- but I don't think he ever wrote his songs with the view "I'm going to commit suicide, and after I die, these songs are going to be how people understand my death". It's frustrating that a lot of the original intentions of these songs are overshadowed simply because of his death. My experience with Elliott Smith has been much different: if anything, Elliott Smith songs only seem to get better the longer it has time to grow on you.

When I first listened to Figure 8, immediate favorites were "Son of Sam", "Junk Bond Trader", "Wouldn't Mama Be Proud?" and "Stupidity Tries". But literally every song on the album has grown on me; as Smith said it himself, "When people talk about how I'm all gloom, it makes me feel bad. Nobody wants to be described as depressing. Sometimes I'm depressed and sometimes I'm not, just like everyone else. Usually songs, and not just my songs, are true for certain times, but they're not true to what you're feeling all the time. They're about how you feel sometimes."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love Elliot smith, totally cried reading this. GREAT MUSIC, great blog.