The story of Elliott Smith is one of the most well known in indie rock. Through struggles with depression, drug addiction, and suicide attempts, Elliott Smith released some of the best albums ever seen in the singer/songwriter genre. Unfortunately, just when it appeared that he was getting his life back on track, he committed suicide (or was murdered). His fans were left with a wealth of music at their disposal, one of those albums being his second, self-titled album. Here, Smith struggles with his darkest demons. He often said that Elliott Smith is, lyrically, the darkest album of his career and for good reason.

The album opens up “Needle in the Hay.” One could only assume the song is semi-autobiographical as the protagonist searches around for a heroine fix. Drugs have always factored largely into Smith’s music and this album is no exception (“St. Ides Heaven”). Smith’s anger also takes a notable presence on this record, something that was seen less and less in his later music, On “Christian Brothers” and “Southern Belle”, Smith angrily calls out figures in his life he seems to hate bitterly. Through his trademark half-whispered delivery, Smith laces pop melodies over finger-strummed guitars, somehow making the acoustic guitar almost as cool as the grunge guitar. Surely, this is a trick he picked up from his days in the rock band Heatmiser, who were still recording music together by the time this album came out. In fact, it’s success is often attributed for the break up of the band.

The album is one of Smith’s best but you can clearly see the areas he needed improvement. At times, his melodies seemed aimless (“Good to Go”). He eventually cultured this into a sort of controlled chaos on his later records but here, it is a detriment. Overall, the album is a great one. Dark, gritty, and everything that is trademark Elliott Smith.

Overall rating: 8.1/10

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