As this July marks the 25th anniversary of Elliott Smith’s self-titled second album, Kill Rock Stars (Smith’s record label) have announced their plans for it to be reissued as a deluxe edition. To be released on 28th August 2020, it will also include a 52-page coffee table book of previously unseen photographs by JJ Gonson, with handwritten lyrics and reminiscences from Smith’s colleagues and friends.
The reissued edition will also include the previously unreleased ‘Live at Umbra Penumbra’. A 1994 performance in a Portland café, the earliest known recording of Smith performing solo. Larry Crane, who serves as the archivist for the Smith family, claims that “there are fan-traded MP3s out there of this show, but when people hear what I was able to extract from this original tape, they’ll be shocked.” Crane discovered this recording whilst sifting through old reels and cassettes of Smith’s, deciding to release it to fans in order to pay homage to his legacy.
When Smith’s second album was first released, it was generally ignored by the press. Receiving neglect from critics and little exposure, his fellow musicians at the time appreciated his work. The album is a stripped back, sorrowful folk record. His whispering, anguished voice addresses themes of depression, suicide and alcoholism. The dark modesty of his songs is what makes his music so extraordinary. For beneath his seemingly simplistic style flows an undercurrent of immense skill and musical technique. His fluency of language accompanied by intricate, melodic guitar and unique chord structures delineates this album as an iconic and timeless work of art.
It is recognised as one of Smith’s most intimate and confessional albums; baring his soul to his audience, composing his music with remarkable beauty and incredible skill. One of its most revealing songs is the solemn ‘Needle in the Hay’, which contains a multitude of double-entendres, seeming to be in reference to his destructive drug addiction. He mournfully sings the line “I’m taking the cure so I can be quiet”, alluding that the only “cure” for his melancholy is to gratify his drug abuse.
The song intimates Smith’s feelings of isolation and alienation, which resonates throughout the entire album. It implies that the sole remedy for his sorrows is his drug dealer who will “make it all ok”. He sings “I don’t want to talk” and “leave me alone”, his disaffection for the people and the world around him made evident. ‘Needle in the Hay’, along with the rest of his album, maintains a sense of fragility and despondency which presuppose his tragic future.
The reissued 25th anniversary edition will honour an album that stands at the apex of his career, providing it with the acclaims it deserves.
The deluxe edition of Smith’s album can be pre-ordered here
Words by Sylvia O’Hara
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