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Elliott Smith – Figure 8 (2000)

September 13, 2014

[Album 344/1001]220px-Elliott_smith_figure_8_cover

I often find myself saying “I see the appeal but…”

Conversely, when it’s a lead singer or a band named Smith, I instead find myself saying “I get why some don’t see the appeal…but frankly they’re missing out!”

Elliott is not for everyone:

– the sad bastard music tag applies
– the frail, whiny voice
– notably with his 1001-listed Either/Or, the deliberate under-production

Figure 8 is more polished but the added gloss never detracts or distracts.

It’s a lot more Beatle-y than I anticipated, with several moments reminding me especially of George.  I’ve since learned Figure 8 was partially recorded at Abbey Road (resisted using a go Figure pun, admirable self-discipline?) and I suppose if you’re going to remind people of another artist, few listeners would have negative associations with the Fab 4.

It appears Elliott was a decade early with the song title Somebody That I Used to Know.  Perhaps not as catchy as the identically-named 2011/2012 smash but I’d still enjoy watching Walk Off The Earth attempt Smith’s propulsive rhythm while crowded around a lone guitar!

The 1001 album it may have the most in common with is, surprising to me at least, Blur’s Parklife.

– Each has 16 tracks and can be split equally into quality classifications of brilliance/’bove average/bread & butter/bizarre (though Elliott’s bizarre category may be switched to barely audible).

– Both records contain some career peaks (Clover Over Dover/Wouldn’t Mama Be Proud) but it’s possible neither album is the strongest overall in either artist’s catalogue.

– Each has a powerful penultimate track followed by a seemingly curious choice of closer.  I think I get it now:  if the albums ended with This is a Low/Can’t Make A Sound, it would be too emotional for a finale.  The palate cleansers provided by the 16th tracks on each allow listeners to get emotions back under control and move on with life.  Sort of like the house lights & music gradually coming on after a second encore at a show, allowing people time to process what they’ve just seen & also start to process out of the building in an orderly fashion.

Or something along those lines, my comparison remains a work in progress.

On the subject of completion, Smith likened the Figure 8 design to the endless pursuit (but never attainment) of perfection.  Sadly, this would be the final studio album released during his lifetime.

Even if he didn’t achieve perfection here, the pursuit makes for a memorable swan song.

From → 2000s

5 Comments
  1. I must admit to still being in the ‘I don’t totally get the adulation’ boat about Smith. Some of it is amazing (Somebody That I Used To know) but some of it’s just crap despite what people want you to think.

    • Fair enough – and there often ends up being a lot of praise for the recordings they did make when the artist dies far too young.
      I wasn’t introduced to his stuff until after his passing, at first his voice was a bit of a deterrent but has definitely grown on me

  2. Great album. I only have this and ‘XO’ (which I prefer). I think my fave on this album is ‘Everything Means nothing to me’

    • And I have yet to hear XO – so if you prefer that, that bodes well for my enjoyment of it too!

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