Monday, November 16, 2009

The Decade in Music #1: Elliott Smith, Figure 8

Release date (UK): April 18th, 2000

Ah 2000, I hardly remember you. And for that, I’m mostly grateful.

Where 1999 had been a fabulous year of adventures and hi-jinks — London! — the first year of the new century, the early part at least, was mostly a bust.

At the tailend of 1999, I embroiled myself in what was in hindsight an disastrous relationship with someone who, as I later discovered, was rather more attracted to hard drugs than she was to me. Whoops! She left for Barcelona on May Day 2000: the day we voted in Ken Livingstone as the Mayor of London: naturally I was distraught.

Which is were Figure 8 came in. I’d first heard the lo-fi version of Elliott Smith in 1997, on a cassette from a friend over from Portland. As 2000 came around, I would have said my favourite album was XO, a masterpiece of guitar playing, waltz-time balladry and almost baroque pop harmonising. (I’m still no nearer to replicating the amazing beauty of “Independence Day” or “Tomorrow Tomorrow” on guitar today. Slow down!).

But Figure 8 seemed from the first to be over-stuffed, too rich, lacking the killer songs, too long. But, post-heartbreak, the album stood revealed as somehow written about, and sung to, me. How was such a thing possible? Listen: “Everything Reminds Me of Her”. Already the title. And then: “I never really had a problem because of leaving: But everything reminds me of her, this evening”.

Listening again today, all that emotional turmoil long since forgotten, it seems a trick of the light, or, at any rate, of the heart. It's not a depressing album by any measure. And knowing what we know about Elliott and his own misery, the record is ultimately hopeful. The middle eight of “In The Lost Of Found” has, to a great swell of strings: “day breaks every morning when he wakes and thinks of you”. And, right at the end, the direct devastation of “I Better Be Quiet Now”.

While the decade would never be so raw again, I can listen to this album, a record which made a profound connection at a dark time, and just about detect the aftershocks of those narcissistic pre 9/11 days.

Buy Figure 8 from Amazon

Sweet Adeline, the best Elliott Smith site.

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