Elliott Smith: Roman Candle, From a Basement on the Hill
[Kill Rock Stars]
Roman Candle: 8.5
From a Basement on the Hill: 6.8
Elliott Smith’s 1994 debut and his 2004 swan song aren’t his best or most popular albums, but both are crucial to understanding the shape of his sadly truncated career. Showcasing Smith’s formative sound and quietly devastating songwriting, Roman Candle may be his most underrated work, and the austere “No Name #3” and “Condor Ave” hint at the greater triumphs of his next two albums, Elliott Smith and Either/Or. By contrast, From a Basement on the Hill (incomplete at the time of his death but finished by producer Rob Schnapf and longtime collaborator Joanna Bolme) may be his most overrated; it substitutes busy arrangements for piercing hooks, and the songwriting is bitter as he revives an old addiction metaphor on “Strung Out Again.” These reissues, which wisely add no bonus tracks to disrupt the careful original sequencing, not only show where Smith had been—they underscore the tragedy of never knowing where he might have gone.