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A rough diamond of an album from a late genius
on 13 December 2003
Elliott Smith, who has tragically died, was one of the finest songwriters of our generation. This album is his first lo-fi solo acoustic CD - the other two are Either/Or and his self-titled one. After that, he branched out into slicker, more polished territory, with XO and Figure 8.
For me, the first three solo albums are Elliott at his best because they ache with the most emotion due to the lack of polish and studio gloss. The intimacy of a simple acoustic recording on a Portastudio should not be underestimated - especially not when the songs are this beautiful, with dark, sometimes depressing lyrics.
Roman Candle is a stark, quiet, beautiful record and is probably Elliott's equivalent of Nick Drake's Pink Moon in that it is so minimalistic in production, mostly just acoustic guitar and vocals. His voice sounds gorgeous, Elliott could sing like a bruised angel, but his punk background lent real power to his sweet melodies, as can be found in the barbed lyrics: "I want to hurt him, I want to give him pain". Elliott gets placed in the folk category a lot of the time, but really it's acoustic indie folk punk with a heavy nod to 1960s guitar pop, particularly the Beatles.
Elliott was a true master of the acoustic guitar and a genius songwriter. What a shame he has left us, but his music will go on forever.