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Thursday, 31 May 2007

The devil's script sells you the heart of a blackbird

I have been listening, with increasing wonder and delight (and some horror), to an album of work recorded by Elliott Smith, From a Basement on the Hill (October, 2004), produced and released posthumously, after this thirty something addled-abused genius died in a did-he-didn't-he murder/suicide - leaving an ambiguous corpse - and a brilliantly twisted, popular legacy of melancholy and melody - like some latter day Edgar A. Poe.

Some fans have written that this album is not his best. I can't imagine that to be true. It has the confidence of its tragic origins, a whiff of the grave that makes a dead artist smell sweet. From the eerie opening of "Coast To Coast" to the last track, "A Distorted Reality is Now A Necessity" the songs establish an immensely persuasive and disturbing presence - we're listening to the inner voice of a man hanging on the edge of self-destruction, but licking the candyfloss from the cliff's face. In this instance, the candy is junk.

Which imbues the double-meant tunes with the usual ache of waiting for a man, claiming to be enthralled by a woman. Junkie logic may not be advisable, but it lends great pathos and complexity to a syntax broken by the line, offering tortured soliloquies and allowing gravitas and grainy longing to shimmer through the pop ("burning every bridge that I cross / to find some beautiful place to get lost"). I am reminded, listening to this sad, doom-laden, beguiling masterwork, of the great Raymond Carver's claim that "everything else is gravy". I can't - literally - get these songs out of my mind, two months since I started - belatedly it must be said - first hearing (I nearly want to say using) them.

For the record, the major songs here are the two aforementioned, as well as "Pretty (Ugly Before)", "A Fond Farewell" and "Twilight".

http://www.cnn.com/2003/SHOWBIZ/Music/10/22/obit.elliott.smith.ap/
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