Album: Elliot Smith

Roman Candle - Elliott Smith - Either/Or, Domino
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The Independent Culture

Thanks to his Oscar-nominated songs on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack, Elliott Smith became the first sadcore superstar, drawing comparisons with Beck through comparatively sophisticated later works such as XO and Figure 8. Unless I've completely misread the press release, this triple-disc set offers fans the chance to catch up with his three earlier solo albums for the price of a single CD, which has to be the deal of the week. Intensely introspective, but spiked with an unflinching streetwise fatalism, Smith's songs are dispatches from the soft white underbelly of American bohemian life, a series of intimate confidences in which he searches vainly for the moral in the mundane. As a writer, he's blessed with a striking sense of drama, throwing out revealing opening lines like "I'm a junkyard of false starts" and "They're waking you up to close the bar" almost at will; but the corollary is a keen, sometimes brutal awareness of his own motivations ("I hate to walk behind other people's ambition"; "I'm a roman candle – my head is full of flames") that suggests affinities with low-life laureate Charles Bukowski. A track such as Either/Or's "Alameda", for instance, is a quiet frenzy of emotional bad faith, knotted together with the pay-off line "If you're alone it must be you that wants to be apart". Recorded prior to his alliance with producer Tom Rothrock, the simple, spare settings pack a deceptive punch. Here is a powerful sense of a life almost painfully over-examined.