The untimely passing of Elliott Smith left a gap in music almost impossible to fill. There have been few artists, at least in this reviewers experience, who’s music could move you to your very core. He was truly one of a kind. There was nothing glamorous or sensational about Elliott’s songs, his later success would come as much a surprise to him as anybody, but it was deserved recognition for someone who’d remained out of the spotlight long enough. Some secrets can’t be kept forever. An Introduction To… attempts the impossible, to narrow down a few choice selections from his seven album catalogue that try and answer the question — “Who Was Elliott Smith?”.
It’s hard not to view this compilation as food for the record company. It offers nothing to the fan who has everything and the tracks aren’t in chronological order, but it’s safe to say there are pockets of people out there who’ve never heard of Elliott Smith, who’ve never seen “Good Will Hunting”, or who don’t remember that shy, skinny weird guy with the quiet voice performing “Miss Misery” at the 1998 Academy Awards. My God, was it that long ago? Consider An Introduction To… as a peculiar mixtape. It scrapes the surface, lifting some of the more immediate and better known tracks from his albums and then tries to assemble them in a cohesive order.
“Ballad of Big Nothing” from Elliott’s unsurpassed 3rd album Either/Or sets the tone for the compilation (with 4 of the 14 tracks taken from this album) and in the majority of his work — the dominant acoustic, double-tracked vocals and the loosest of rhythm sections. Signing to major label Dreamworks in 1998 afforded Elliott a larger studio budget and mainstream push, in which the plaintive “Waltz #2 (XO)” with its “I’m never gonna know you now/but I’m gonna love you anyhow” refrain is one of the few tracks plucked from that period. His ascribed battles with depression, alcoholism and drug abuse dogged him throughout his career and were also writ large in his music, either figuratively, in “Between The Bars” or literally with “Needle in the Hay” (the absence of “St.Ides Heaven” in this collection is an oversight).
There are no bad songs here. The only real “hmm… ok” moments are the “early version” of “Miss Misery” (they couldn’t plump to licence the original?) and the cute, but unremarkable “Angel In The Snow”, both of which appeared on the odds and ends collection “New Moon”. What An Introduction To… does show, is an artist with a rare talent in voicing his feelings in song and articulating them in a way which painted a picture that was as beautiful as it was sad. A “Best Of” artist Elliott Smith wasn’t, nor someone who’s work could be adequately represented with such a rudimentary passover. Hopefully in the future there will be a more representative attempt that won’t hold back so much.