Elliott Smith “Either/Or”

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#522 in the Series) is Elliott Smith, Either/Or

The one that almost got away.

When I bought this album it was a new release and the critics were raving about it, the praise was effusive, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands (and ears!) on it. Turned out they were all wrong……………

This was the first I’d ever heard of Elliott Smith and he did absolutely nothing for me. After the first plays I just thought that it all sounded the same, nothing really stood out and it just sort of washed over me. I played it a few times but quickly lost interest. It slowly moved towards the back of the pile and eventually found its way upstairs to lay gathering dust for 2/3 years or so.

Then, one day, it was time for one of my infrequent clear-outs and a trip to the local charity shop with all the CD’s, books and DVD’s that were deemed unwanted. Now, with most CD’s I decide to get rid of there will still be a song or two that are worth putting on a blank disc and keeping but with the Elliott Smith one that simply wasn’t the case. I read the tracklist and there was not a single song that I wanted to keep, I didn’t know the album at all. This annoyed me. I took everything else down to the charity shop but kept this one. That evening, on my regular after-dinner stroll, I took my Discman and “Either/Or” and gave it a close listen for the first time………..you can probably guess the rest!

What a completely fantastic album this turned out to be, utterly beautiful. How I managed to miss out on its charms the first time around I’ll never know. I’m making up for it now though.

The way Smith sings these songs in such a gentle yet urgent manner, the subtle lo-fi production values, the caustic, wry lyrics and the gloriously understated melodies on offer all add up to a perfect combination of yearning emotion and hushed beauty. And to think I’d initially thought there were no standout tracks, good grief, the whole damn album’s full of them! There’s just simply a delightful, charming elegance to it all, a little treasure of an album.

Lyrically, it’s pretty hard to work out what’s going on but it seems like the songs are little open letters to various people in Elliott’s life at the time, lovers, ex-lovers, friends who’ve let him down somehow, people he observes on the streets. That’s how it seems to me anyway. It certainly doesn’t detract from the enjoyment though and in fact even adds to it, trying to figure it all out is half the fun.

The albums overall sound and feel (all instruments played by Smith himself by the way) is like some kind of late-night confessional but it’s not really like that to be honest. One things for sure though, Elliott Smith was not your usual run-of-the-mill lyricist, he was more of a poet and on this album really seems to understand the loneliness that lies at the heart of the human condition.

Elliott Smith went on to bigger but not necessarily better things. His song “Miss Misery” from the soundtrack of the movie “Good Will Hunting” earned him an Oscar nomination (he performed, somewhat uncomfortably, at the ceremony), he also signed to a major label and went on to much acclaim and success.

It was a sad loss on the day, October 21 2003 that Elliott Smith died. Who knows what great things this man could have achieved, he was a wonderful, fragile artist and on the evidence of “Either/Or” the world lost a genius that day. He’ll never be forgotten though, certainly not for as long as there are people on this planet (or any other!) who remain enthralled by his music.

I’ll be one of them.

— Stephen Dalrymple, Glasgow, Scotland

Track listing

All songs written by Elliott Smith.

  1. “Speed Trials” – 3:01
  2. “Alameda” – 3:43
  3. “Ballad of Big Nothing” – 2:48
  4. “Between the Bars” – 2:21
  5. “Pictures of Me” – 3:46
  6. “No Name No. 5” – 3:43
  7. “Rose Parade” – 3:28
  8. “Punch and Judy” – 2:25
  9. “Angeles” – 2:56
  10. “Cupid’s Trick” – 3:04
  11. “2:45 AM” – 3:18
  12. “Say Yes” – 2:19


Posted by Stephen Dalrymple
I was so much older then , i'm younger than that now.........

1 Comment

  1. Rose_Parade (30 Mar 2012, 21:11)

    This album has helped me through a lot of hard times. In my personal opinion, in music, I think Elliott Smith is the absolute greatest artist that ever lived, that we have seen in our life times of music. Either or is and will always be my favorite album by any artist. Great review!

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