'From A Basement on the Hill' is the final studio album by Elliott Smith, one of the great musical legends of his time. In the UK, it was released posthumously in 2004, but all of these tracks were actually recorded between 2002 to 2003. Elliott had always intended to release another record, but after his death, we got this collection made up from the studio recordings that he had been planning to use. Some fans, understandably, still see this one as a compilation rather than a studio album proper.
Although we rarely turn to Elliott for a lot of 'happy' music (though he did excel in making poppy catchy melodies), this is an especially deeply emotional album, with many of it's songs strongly referencing the troubled genius' real-life battles with depression and drugs. It also contains what is quite possibly the greatest ever song of his all too brief career, the utterly gorgeous, acoustic 'Twilight', which sees the American singer-songwriter reflecting on the sometimes ineffectiveness of happiness and relationships. Also on the record is one of my own personal Elliott favourites, 'King's Crossing', with it's heart-breaking lyrics (especially ''I can't prepare for death any more. Than I already have'') which are open to interpretation, the eerie piano riff, and it's brilliant imagery, is an absolute masterpiece. The second track, 'Let's Get Loss', is a gentle folk song, which goes back to his early days, and the very poignant single 'Pretty (Ugly Before)', is a heartfelt reflection of feeling completely worthless.
Listening to those four excellent songs, and all of the other plentiful highlights on 'A Basement on the Hill', one can not help but feel the great sense of shame that we lost such a talented musician at the peak of his creative talent. I will always play his music whenever I want to hear honest, quality song-writing, the most beautiful of melodies, and a completely sincere delivery. Buy this album of Elliott's final recordings, you won't regret it if you enjoyed his previous work, and celebrate an artist who deserves his hallowed name in the history books.
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I haven't got much to say that hasn't been said before, but this is one of my all-time favourite albums and I just wanted to add to the long list of tributes. Yes, it was released posthumously, but don't assume this is some kind of half-baked cash-in on his tragic death, or a pile of demos never meant to see the light of day a la Jeff Buckley's 'second album'. No-one is suggesting that Basement is exactly the album that Smith would have intended it to be, had he lived, but quality-wise you just can't fault it.
There are so many beautiful songs here that it's kind of mind-blowing. A Passing Feeling, The Last Hour, Memory Lane, Pretty (Ugly Before) are some of my personal favourites. The recent release of New Moon shows what an astonishing number of top-notch songs he had just knocking around in his back catalogue, the sort of tunes that today's legion of horribly insipid singer-songwriters would probably give a kidney for. These are beautiful songs about ugly things, though: drugs, depression, mental illness. Great for providing solace when you're feeling down yourself, but not so good for those who like their lyrics upbeat, and the mood here is way more melancholy than some previous releases (Figure 8, Either/Or). As for me personally, I'd take Smith's anguish over a breezy pop song any day of the week. And Basement is one of those rare gems - an album I can listen to all the way through without skipping a single track. He saved the best till last.
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