Thursday, October 20, 2011

Album Retrospective: elliott Smith - Roman Candle

Elliott Smith, being quite possibly the greatest singer-songwriter of our time, was also one of the most tragic figures in 90's music. As one could tell just from listening to Roman Candle, Smith was in no way a happy person, writing lyrics that often deal with his struggles against depression, alcoholism, and drug addiction. Although going head-to-head with 1997's Either/Or for my personal favorite album by Smith, I often consider Roman Candle to be his masterpiece. There are no songs on this album that don't touch me emotionally in some way, or at least spark some sort of reaction. "No Name #1", which has made its way into my top ten favorite songs of all time, is a perfect representation of Smith's emotion. The lyrics depict a story of standing alone at a party, not talking to anybody, and the one girl that you talk to you say something awkward and silly and she walks away from you, a moment of rejection that anybody can relate to.

These moments are countless throughout Roman Candle, such as the typical breakup song, "Condor Ave.". The song tells a story of the end of a relationship, where the girl drives away and dies in a car crash. The lyrics have an underlying meaning that sounds something along the lines of "enjoy it while you can", which goes through the narrator's mind as he looks through his dead partner's posessions. While also being one of the most emotional and beautiful songs that Smith has ever written, it is also a fine display of his guitar playing skills. Throughout the track Smith fingerpicks a bouncy, folky melody that borders infectious. Smith also has a vocal delivery that is unique to any other that I have heard before. His double tracked vocals are often cold and have a strange emptiness to them that makes his messages all the more stronger.

And then there is "No Name #3", which is the perfect soundtrack to a cold, lonely day spent indoors. The lightly strummed guitar chords seem to cry along with Smith as he sings "everyone is gone home to oblivion". Smith's use of double tracked vocals gives the song a strange but beautiful effect, which sounds like (and literally is) Smith singing along with himself, as if to lessen the cold and desolate emotion throughout the song. The second to last track, 'Last Call", brings an electric guitar into mix, which adds to the grandeur of the best lyrics on the album that depict a relationship falling through because of trust issues. The whole track leads up to one final verse where Smith lets out everything while repeating the line "And I wanted her to tell me that she would never wake me"

After Roman Candle, Elliott Smith would go on and gain mainstream success with songs such as "Miss Misery" and make the most consistently flawless discography in the history of independent music. Although it may not have the rock-bottom catharsis of Either/Or, as Smith's debut I feel that Roman Candle is his most important release. And eight years after his death, the music is still as beautiful and relateable as it has ever been.

1. Roman Candle
2. Condor Ave.
3. No Name # 1
4. No Name # 2
5. No Name # 3
6. Drive All Over Town
7. No Name # 4
8. Last Call
9. Kiwi Maddog 20/20

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