91.) Elliott Smith - From a Basement on a Hill (2004)
Elliott Smith was a great songwriter. Elliott Smith was a sad guy. Elliott Smith's sadness probably made him a great songwriter.
As someone who could have been labeled a huge fan of Elliott's, news of his death on October 13th, 2003 hit me with a wave of sadness but ultimately not a lot of shock. I do remember where I was in that way our parents remember where they were when JFK died or, to make it more modern, they way most of us remember where we were when we heard about Kurt Cobain. (I was in the Page office and was informed by a fellow page.)
At the time I guess it was marginally surprising in that in the months leading up to it there were all these articles being written where the thesis was "Elliott Smith is actually okay, you guys and his new record is going to be the greatest thing he's ever done." To most of us, those articles only served to make us skeptical. If they're yelling this so loudly it can't be true...and unfortunately it wasn't.
The record being discussed in all those articles was this one, From A Basement on a Hill and it's great, but not the greatest thing he's ever done (that's still Either/Or). But who knows really what it could have been. From A Basement was left unfinished, though it's often said not by much. It's rumored that the From A Basement that we own is pretty close to Elliott vision of the thing and it's a pretty beautiful record. Of course, it's haunted by the ghost of its creator. The last relic of what could have been an even more brilliant career than it already was. And in that respect it was difficult for me to listen to at first (it being released almost a year to the date of his death didn't make it any easier) and it sat on my shelf for a while. And then a year plus after its release I sat down and listened to From A Basement and I kept doing so for a long time after.
It was an Elliott record and I had come to miss Elliott's records and I especially missed being able to hear songs that I hadn't heard before. It didn't feel like an ending, which was what I feared. It felt like the next logical step in the progression of an artist I had grown to adore. There weren't any hints in the lyrics, or at least no more so than on any previous record, of what was to come. There was melancholy, of course, but there were also pop guitars and that voice. I loved that voice and still do. I was lucky enough to see Elliott live a half dozen times between "Either/Or" and "Figure 8" and that's what I miss the most about him. I'll always have the records, but I miss seeing him on stage where supposedly he felt uncomfortable but where, in truth, he was at his best.
I still miss Elliott like I knew him. And I guess -no matter how cliched this sounds- through his records I, and all his fans, did a little bit. So, this one's for Elliott.
Posted by Pat Driscoll