Like it or not, indie artist Elliott Smith has found that the glass slipper fits. Elliott Smith was the guy with the “who me?” look on his face standing sandwiched between Celine Dion and Trisha Yearwood like road kill at the Academy Awards. If you didn’t know better, you might toss a few coins in his coffee cup if you pass him in the streets. The disheveled Smith has gone from rags to riches and back to rags where he seems more comfortable. And when he stood up there on that very lonely and massive stage performing his haunting “Miss Misery” from the motion picture Good Will Hunting, hundreds of celebrities turned from the glow of their Harry Winston diamonds and their gold-glittered miniature Godiva chocolate Oscars to say, “Who the fuck’s that guy?” and “What the hell is he wearing?”
XO has received heavy rotation at my house. It’s really all I’ve been listening to lately. My neighbors downstairs will probably agree. Before listening to it, I heeded all of the warnings about it being wrist-slicing sad. Some said Smith made Morrissey sound like Katrina and the Waves. In preparation, I neatly laid out a varied rainbow assortment of anti-depressants, weapons and Medieval torture devices. But, to my delight, Smith’s songs weren’t nearly as melancholy as anticipated. Dare I mention the word happy? My fingers were often snapping uncontrollably and I only went for the shotgun twice.
The Portland, Oregon native packed up his knit hats and split for Brooklyn, leaving his Kill Rock Stars label and joining juggernaut DreamWorks Records. DreamWorks’ big budget gave Smith the opportunity to top off his already beautiful melodies with piano, horns and string arrangements. The result is outstanding. When I first heard his songs in Good Will Hunting, I remember thinking that the songs were really great, but they all sounded very similar. That’s not the case with the songs on XO. Each song is very unique though stamped with Smith’s trademark whispery voice and layered harmonies. He admits the Beatles are his favorite band and their influence is obvious in several songs on the record. But who isn’t influenced by The Beatles? OK, you’re right, Ol’ Dirty Bastard is not influenced by The Beatles whatsoever. XO is a sign that Elliott Smith could be one of the great songwriters of our time.
There really isn’t a dud on the record, but I really love “Waltz #2 (XO),” “Baby Britain,” “Bled White,” “Bottle Up And Explode!” and “I Didn’t Understand,” which is a funny title since it follows “Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands.”
“Waltz #2 (XO)” is in fact a genuine waltz. My grandmother would love this song. Each time I hear it, I recall the image of her wrapping her arm around my neck and teaching me the waltz as a child. I can still hear her singing 1-2-3, 1-2-3, Da-Da-Da, Dee-Dee-Dee. No! Carey No!, you’re getting it all wrong. Concentrate you moron; you uncoordinated screw up. (Just kidding grandma).
The a capella “I Didn’t Understand” is two minutes of weightless beauty engraved in words of heartache. I’m thinking if he can harness this a capella stuff into a whole album, he might have something. He and his band could wear matching suits or basketball uniforms and do that thing where they sort of sing with their hands and then put out lovely holiday compilations for Christmas, Flag Day, whatever. I don’t think it’s ever been done.
Just a thought.