Album Reviews: From a Basement on the Hill by Elliott SmithBecause of his (apparent) suicide last year, Elliott Smith's mopey minions will be looking for even deeper and darker themes to the songs on his final album, From a Basement on the Hill. With titles like "Strung Out Again," "A Fond Farewell" and "Last Hour," you don’t have to look too hard to find songs about heroin addiction, loneliness and possibly even suicide. But you won’t necessarily find bleaker material here than on any of Smith's previous albums. It’s never really been a secret that Smith had a drug problem and that he leaned toward the darker side of life.
And this album is no different. It’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from Elliott Smith, full of gorgeous, lush melodies, introspective and desperate lyrics, and even more hints of what this guy was fully capable of. The album features a few of his trademark beautiful-loser lullabies, as well as songs that break the conventions of a typical Elliott Smith album. "Pretty (Ugly Before)" is a great example of the aforementioned lullabies, an honest and heartbreaking sadcore anthem. But "King’s Crossing" and the opening track "Coast to Coast" show a side of Smith that we will sadly never see come to fruition, using a thunderous, crunching wall of sound that's surprising and almost frightening. My only complaint with the album is that it lacks flow, but that's probably due in part to the fact that the songs were compiled after Smith’s death.
Elliott Smith was arguably the finest singer/songwriter of his generation, and this collection of tracks fits nicely into an already robust catalog of impeccable songs. His talent and gift for melody set him apart from your garden-variety sadcore indie rocker. He was as much Paul McCartney as he was Nick Drake. You could slip his tracks into a mixtape for your mom and she’d be humming it after one listen. But of course you wouldn’t -- because if she ever listened to the lyrics, she’d be quite worried about you.
This is Elliott Smith’s last album, unless he becomes the Tupac of Indie Rock. I pray that doesn’t happen. This is a wonderful last album to have your name on. His music has been like a warm blanket of commiseration for a sad and frustrated generation. But there was always that hint of hope in his music. Elliott Smith said he was always surprised when people called his music sad, because playing it made him so happy. Listening to it, I feel the same way. - Doug Kamin
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