on 16 October 2003
This is the second in the trilogy of Elliott's lo-fi acoustic albums (the first being Roman Candle and the third being Either/Or) and is an excellent example of the man's talent.
Anyone who cannot stomach simplistic, raw production values might want to steer clear but with songs as strong as this, there is no need to dress them up in silk.
Elliott is an alternative artist but these songs also have a pop sensibility, making them accessible, despite the fact they are at times very dark and moving. He has a keen ear for a melody and never bores the listener. Just as well, as he relies mostly on just an acoustic guitar and his voice to convey his deep, tortured and at times, sweet, lyrics. To swamp his songs in swathes of instrumentation and production would be a shame anyway. This is songwriting at its purest.
Vocally he sounds like a gentle Kurt Cobain with a touch of the Beatles, and his guitar technique is up there with Nick Drake and Paul Simon. The man is sheer class, yet listening to this, it feels like a secret no-one else knows about. That is the intimacy of Smith's songwriting.
Standout tracks include Needle in the Hay, Southern Belle and Coming up Roses but there are many more nuggets of gold to be enjoyed. All in all, if you like your songs stripped bare and bleeding, you'll love this.
on 2 May 2010
I've been listening pretty much non-stop to Smith ever since I first discovered him a couple of years ago, sadly too late to ever see him perform. I had noticed his song needle in the hay, which kicks off this album, in Wes Anderson's film The Royal Tenenbaums, and been slightly intrigued, but I quickly forgot all about it. It wasn't until I read an article in Uncut magazine that I decided to investigate, and he turned out to be pretty much excactly what I was looking for; at the time I was getting really into virtuoso acoustic folk/blues guitarists, like Bert Jansch, Nick Drake, John Martyn etc, and much as I loved them I was kind of missing the pretty chorus melodies and structures of pop and rock music. Elliott Smith was both a classical-standard fingerpicker and a masterful tunesmith, his folky playing perfectly tempered by his obvious love of Elvis Costello, The Kinks, Big Star etc, and his voice, while delicate and sweet, betrays his background playing in punk and alternative rock bands. The best description I can come up with is a cross between the Nirvana unplugged album and Pink Moon by Drake; a lot of people have compared him to Neil Young, and I can kind of hear that too.
This is his second album, and was my first port of call; if you're new to him, it's an excellent point of entry, containing several of his most loved songs, like needle in the hay, christian brothers, clementine, southern belle, the biggest lie etc, and finds him in his early Kill Rock Stars (his label) phase, before he moved to a major and started playing around in big professional studios; while these later albums are excellent (the one upshot of Smith's short career is that he never made a bad album) I have always preferred the intimacy of these stark four track songs, with their demo sound quality and tape hiss, perhaps because outside of old delta blues records you rarely get to hear a true musical genius captured in such a lo fi way. Roman Candle and Either/Or are both similarly recorded, though the latter has a little more going on, with more frequent electric guitars, drums and keyboards, pointing to the direction he was to take on his next two albums. I recommend you buy this, and if you like it you should consider all his records essential purchases, including the two posthumous compilations From A Basement On The Hill and New Moon.
on 10 December 2010
To discover Elliott Smith is truly a life changing experience. Is that an exageration? I don't think so. It is like having a secret, that you have found something, that has eluded all but a relative few.
Be prepared to get taken to some pretty scary places on his 2nd album. Rarely does music transport you to a place in the same way that a good book does, but then rarely do you hear music as intense as this. Be prepared to go with Smith to the seedy side of town, downstairs to the dealer's place "this dirty retreat". Sit alone with Smith, the last to leave the bar, "they're waking you up to close the bar". Walk the streets at night "with a head full of stars". They are places you might not choose to go on your own, but it's OK to go there with Smith, they are the places he visits every day.
Although there is an underlying anger to this album that never surfaced on his first album, there are still the beautiful melodies and haunting lyrics, that no-one else has managed, before or since. This album for me, poses more questions than it answers, a case in point being The Biggest Lie. What it is remains a mystery, but then perhaps that is the point.
The last place that you will find Elliott Smith on this album is "waiting for a train, the subway that only goes one way", one of many prophetic references that he made to suicide during his career. I just hope that when the train finally arrived, he at last found some peace.
Elliott Smith has long since been one of my favourite singer/songwriters of all time, and I have, at various stages of my life, been practically obsessed with his haunting music. He was a five star talent who left this world far too soon, but his impressive string of top albums will always live on.
This self-titled masterpiece, released in 1995, was his second album, a much stronger, angrier record than it's predecessor, and one of my all-time favourites, second only perhaps to 'Either/Or' in my affections as my favourite Elliott album. The stand-out tracks on here are the wonderfully depressing 'Needle in the Hay', one of his most popular songs, and 'The Biggest Lie', but there are so many more hidden gems to listen alone too quietly. I particularly like 'St. Ides Heaven', which perfectly captures what it's like when stumbling through the early hours of the morning.
Shy American Elliott sure knew how to write simple, sad, little songs, often dealing with the self-autobiographical use of drugs, and an almost obsessive romantic co-dependence. Clearly influenced by The Beatles and their appealing hooks and melodies, he could always deliver the goods in his distinctive, ever so quiet and yet so powerful voice. On a personal level, I can safely say that his tragic tales, which often contain a lot of hidden depths when you really, are often quite relatable to myself.
This is melodic folk-rock music at it's most intense and beautiful, which conveys so much wonderful atmosphere, and makes the lyrics of his songs stand out so much more. Complete with fine acoustic guitar work, Elliott Smith was one of the most brilliant young musicians and songwriters of his generation, and this collection of songs highlights that bold description beautifully.
on 7 October 2010
Quite possibly the best Elliott Smith record available, it is also one of his most stripped, simple and fragile. The opener 'Needle In The Hay', one of his most popular solo songs, doesn't appeal to me personally that much, and the lesser known tracks such as the bluesy 'Alphabet Town' and 'Clementine' are my personal favourites. The lovely, warming acoustic guitar compliments Elliott's melancholic vocals, and despite being very basic texturally it is still incredible - guitar, vocals, harmonica - you really don't need much more on an Elliott Smith album in my humble opinion!
Definitely worth the buy, and a great price on Amazon!
on 10 September 2000
I discovered Elliott Smith around three weeks ago and immediately spent some precious dole money on three of his albums. This, his second, was my last purchase, and I'd put it up there with Either/Or. Basically it has beautiful melodies, lo-fo production, acoustic guitar, and great lyrics. It's everything i like about music, minor chords, no overwrought instrumentation, and, again, melodies. "St ides Heaven" has an amazing chorus and great unrepentant drink-and-drugs lyrics. "Christian Brothers", complete eith trademark swearing, is catchy, amazing. "Needle In The Hay" the same. The only reason i hold back a star? Some tracks, around the middle numbers, lack the great melody, but it's always better to have four diamonds rather than dependable mediocrity. Elliott Smith is everything Bernard Butler would like to be. Buy it.
This is outstanding, I got to hear about this guy through a friend who's taste is sometimes suspect but this! The opener Needle in The Hay is in my favourite movie of recent times the royal tenenbaums in its best scene such swirling, swelling melancholy tugs at every bit of your head he shall leave a hole in music
on 26 June 2013
After listening to all of his albums, I think that this is my favourite and I'm glad that he chose this one to be self titled. Unlike Either/Or, Elliott Smith the album doesn't have stand out singles that don't compliment the rest of the songs the the way these ones do.
on 21 July 2014
In my opinion this is Elliott Smith's best album, I recommend album opener needle in the hay which highlights his gorgeous vocal harmonies and genius songwriting ability, raw, pissed off yet tender if you like the softer side of nirvana give this a try
on 26 July 2009
Classic Elliot Smith, familiar style to those who have listened to XO with excellent recording quality. Its not as instantely beautiful as later albums such as XO and Figure 8 hence the 4 stars not 5 but will grow on me I'm sure.