4 Out Of 5 Stars
Elliott Smith was a singer songwriter weened on punk and grunge, with the soul of Nick Drake and a brain filled with arrangements by The Beatles and Brian Wilson. Which made him about as unlikely a pop star as any man on the 90's could have been. Add a still unresolved death while he was recording "From a Basement On A Hill," and Elliott begins to find his name mentioned next to the likes of Jeff Buckley; a gifted singer songwriter whose best work could have easily still been ahead of him.
"An Introduction to Elliott Smith" does a good job at capturing what Smith was all about and where the buzz over him was generated. He had a knack for insidious, low key melodies that would blossom after multiple listenings, as well as the kind of tortured lyrics an angsty person could wallow in for days. "Miss Misery," which hauled in an Oscar Nomination after Gus Van Zandt included it in "Good Will Hunting," is a perfect example. Included here as a demo version, it still creeps under the skin as Smith's light voice whispers "I'll fake it through the day with the help of some Johnny Walker Red." As opening lines to a lousy love affair go, there are few that top it.
But Smtih could also whip up a tasty pop confection, as both "Happiness" and "Ballad of Big Nothing" show in a stately way.
Despite the tormented underpinnings, both songs are catchy and melodic, the kind of songs that would stick in your ear until you realized what exactly Smith was singing about. He mastered both the art of production and ambiance (the subtle, cricket chirping of "Twilight"), yet never managed a hit single. Smith only cracked the top 20 with an album after his death, when "From a Basement" peaked at 19. Like Buckley, or perhaps Nick Drake, Smith created a legacy that now has a modest but permanent canon of work that gains in luster the longer you listen.