As far as I’m concerned, you really couldn’t construct a bad compilation of Elliott Smith songs. In his all-too-short career he produced consistent examples of excellent songwriting. Even if you compiled everything seen as average or passable in his catalogue, you would still have something stronger than most other songwriters can hope to produce.
So here on An Introduction to Elliott Smith – the first compilation of his work so far — the choices simply appeal on a by-preference basis. I definitely think there are some great songs missing: where are “Baby Britain,” “Southern Belle,” “Say Yes,” “Rose Parade,” “Pitseleh,” or “Independence Day”? If I was tasked with putting this compilation together, those would be the first tracks I placed on here. However, in absence of those, one can still find “Ballad of Big Nothing,” “Waltz #2,” “Angeles,” and “Needle in the Hay.” It’s also nice to see the inclusion of an early version of “Miss Misery,” though it honestly doesn’t seem to differ all that much from the previously released version.
With the album taking an “Introduction” approach — as opposed to “The Best of” — it is granted an interesting opportunity: it is free to include whichever songs it pleases. But, like a friend making you a mixtape, it is clearly one person’s opinion on how best to get into Elliott Smith. If I had started here, I don’t think I would have been as immediately taken with his work. But that’s just because I tend to favor different tracks. Regardless of that, I still love everything on here. The album plays as a beautiful tribute to the songwriting style of one of rock’s greatest musicians. If you’ve never heard Elliott Smith before, or simply know him for his additions to the Good Will Hunting and The Royal Tenenbaums’ soundtracks, this is a very good launching point. You’ll find the tracks you’ve heard and some others to start you on the journey. But I’d probably suggest just listening to XO or Either/Or.
For existing Elliott Smith fans, there’s nothing all the exciting to mine here, just a playlist of songs you already have and know. If nothing else, this compilation reminds us of the genius of Smith, showing that his songs have not lost any edge or punch. His lyrics still craft sadness that is painful and beautifully relatable. But it’s also a sad note, as this represents a conclusion — there aren’t any new albums coming. We now have to work with what we were given, but what we were given was a career of utter strength, where even the low notes were some of the most interesting and exciting bits of songwriting of this generation.
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