Elliot Smith: From a Basement on the Hill

By Derek Wright

A posthumous release is doomed to mediocracy.

Regardless how good or bad, there are too many questions to judge it fairly.

Are the songs as complete as the artist wanted? What new material would have been written? Are the songs in the right order, or even the correct ones? What creative license was taken?

Such is truth with Elliott Smith’s sixth release. The double-disc of material he refined for three years was scaled down to a single LP.

In his absence, skeptics can credit or blame the producers for the end result.

Luckily, his family and friends avoided overly deifying Smith with angelic reverence. They chose to show him as the tortured, heroin-addicted genius he’d become.

The delicate balladeer now is sometimes smothered by fuzzed-out guitars as he is on “Shooting Star” and “Coast To Coast.”

Other songs, such as “Memory Lane” and “Twilight,” return Smith to his familiar soft vocals and acoustic guitars.

Thus the album is jarringly different at times and intentionally familiar at others.

But what did Smith want – to remain the same, to reinvent himself or to release this record at all?