Top 100

#97 Either/Or – Elliott Smith (1997)


Track Listing:-

  1. Speed Trials
  2. Alameda
  3. Ballad of Big Nothing
  4. Between the Bars
  5. Pictures of Me
  6. No Name No. 5
  7. Rose Parade
  8. Punch and Judy
  9. Angeles
  10. Cupid’s Trick
  11. 2:45 AM
  12. Say Yes

I was listening to the radio the other day. I came across a song where the protaganist was singing about meeting a girl in Galway, singing in a bar and eating Doritos. I thought to myself that this person singing this song (some chap called Ed Sheehan – you may have heard of him…) is supposed to be a revered singer/songwriter.

When I think of a singer/songwriter, I think of a man who is tormented by his own breath and the haunting thoughts that crosses his mind and terrifies him. The songwriting process should be a painful yet cathartic way of expressing ones deepest and darkest emotions. So when I think of a singer/songwriter I think of someone like Elliott Smith.

Elliott Smith seemed to be a very tortured and troubled person, he sadly died in 2003 aged 34, he struggled with life and had a very difficult childhood. I think this definitely comes through in his work, and it is sad that he only managed to record five albums (he was working on a sixth which was released posthumously.

The album Either/Or makes for very interesting listening, firstly Smith has a very whispery quality to his voice, it is almost cheerful and puts me in mind of Richard James’ singing for Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and sounds a little bit like Brendan Benson as well on his more quieter numbers.

The melodies are very much influenced by 60s pop music from the likes of such bands like The Beatles and Beach Boys, but the lyrics are a lot darker than these two highly successful bands.

The production itself sounds very DIY and simple, which is not meant as a dig at all, for the lo-fi production is what helps make the album very appealing and allows the intimacy to shine through, it is also worth noting that Elliott plays all of the instruments on the album, which shows that he was a gifted multi-instrumentalist.

The most well known song on this album is ‘Miss Misery’ which featured on the ‘Good Will Hunting’ soundtrack. It was also nominated for an Oscar, beaten by Celine Dion’s bland offering ‘My Heart Will Go On’ – hmmmm yes I’ve heard of that one, a million times in my nightmares.

The stand out tracks on the album for me are ‘Say Yes’ with the unforgettable lyric “I’m in love with the world through the eyes of a girl/Who’s still around the morning after.” – which we can all agree is an amazing thing and also ends the album on a somewhat positive note, unless I have missed some sinister meaning.

Another great track is ‘Between the Bars’ which is really understated with just Smith and his guitar, with this great verse:-

“People you’ve been before that you
Don’t want around anymore
That push and shove and won’t bend to your will
I’ll keep them still”

Needless to say, I think I’ll be listening to this album for some time to come, I think I may now definitely be a fan.