Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Elliot Smith New Moon Review

Elliot Smith’s newest album New Moon has been posthumously released in 2007. Written and recorded between 1994 and 1997, New Moon offers two discs of unreleased material, that Smith mostly recorded by himself with a four track recorder. Some of Elliot Smith’s songs on this album sound a lot like the songs on his self titled Elliot Smith album or even Either/Or back when he was on the Kill Rock Stars record label before signing to Dreamworks and producing his albums heavily with intruments on albums like XO and Figure 8. This album was recorded in the height of Smith’s musical recording productivity as all twenty four songs on this album had never been released during his lifetime amazingly enough and plenty of them are better then the material that was on his debut album Roman Candle.

The opening track “Angel In The Snow,” has that sad, quiet sweetness of Elliot’s voice that recall many of his other best songs, along with the clean strumming of the acoustic guitar. The second song on the album “Talking To Mary,” is said to be about Elliot’s mother whom he had a rocky relationship with growing up in Texas. Smith sings this song in his usual soft pensively brooding voice “Taking to Mary, you know you don’t have to shout. She can hear what you’re thinking like you were saying it right out loud. Sure she sees behind that dirty look. It was her that followed down every step and turn you took.” Other songs recall similar themes in other Smith albums such as being a junkie, or “Going out in my car, straight to the bar where my sweattie pours the beer,” in “New Monkey.” Smith paints pictures of both hope and depression in “New Monkey,” closing out the song with the verse, “Anything is better than nothing.”

The best song on New Moon is “Looking Over My Shoulder,” with its great guitar hook and Smith’s incredible harmony in his voice. As allmusic.com states, “It’s catchy in that monotonously melodic kind of way Smith knew how to do best.” Smith sings the song with a slight anger in his voice, “You’re always coming over with all your friends and all their opinions I don’t want to know. And I’m looking over my shoulder, booking away with nowhere to go.”

The next song on the album “Going Nowhere,” follows a similar theme to “Looking Over My Shoulder,” in the sense that Elliot seems lost somewhere with nowhere to go and nobody to turn to. According to allmusic “There is a depth in New Moon that is more than pure sadness, that reveals a kind of self pity for Smith’s subject.” The lyrics in “Going Nowhere,” seem more sentimental of Smith longing for a more innocent time in his life full of an old lover, daydreams and old records, where things were more simple.

“The clock moved a quarter of a turn. The time it took a cigarette to burn. She said you got a lot of things to learn. Going nowhere…The steps made a pattern I'd never seen. I felt like a kid of six or seventeen. I was off in some empty day dream. Going nowhere.
It's dead and gone matter of fact. Maybe for the best, said some things you can't take back. The old records sitting on the floor. The ones I can't put on anymore. He walked over to her like before. Going nowhere.”

Elliot Smith strumming his acoustic guitar at a live show

The end of Disc One of New Moon features the original version of “Miss Misery” the song that launched Elliot Smith into stardom when he re-recorded a second more produced version for Gus Van Zant’s 1997 film Good Will Hunting. Smith was eventually nominated for an Oscar for the song and played at the Academy Awards wearing a sharp white suit. Disc Two is not nearly as strong as Disc One of New Moon as it features the song “Either/Or” which is also the name of Smith’s third album that helped get him signed to a major record label Dreamworks. Also a rendition of Ray Charles’s “Georgia, Georgia” sounds alright but not nearly on the same caliber as some of Smith’s recordings that made it on his studio albums. The same can be said for his alternate rendition of “Pretty Mary K,” which would eventually be re-recorded and sound much better being released on 2000’s Figure 8. While New Moon may not be Elliot Smith’s best recorded album, lacking some of the musical complexity that made some of his later material such as XO and From A Basement On The Hill two of his best albums, allmusic does point out that Smith’s songs were far more positive in these early 90s recordings, than they would later be towards the end of Smith’s life as he battled depression, as well as serious drug addiction and alcoholism. Allmusic writes, “That’s the overall feeling that New Moon gives, a sense of opportunity, of possibility, of life within the bleak reality. The album portrays a more stable Smith and promises something brilliant to come, full of words and chords that will touch thousands, alluding to the future and the past, but mostly, in its own quiet way, screaming to show off the immense talents of one man and his songs.” In this sense it is quite fitting that New Moon may be the last album of original Elliot Smith material to ever be released.

Elliot Smith playing "Miss Misery" live at the Oscars in 1997

No comments:

Post a Comment