From a Basement on the Hill
Available Tues Oct 19
You can't ignore the obvious, no matter how hard you try. The tragic passing of Elliott Smith will forever haunt the release of his latest/final recording, From a Basement on the Hill. Haunted by all that could have been. Haunted by the tragedy of all those Nick Drake comparisons that finally came true. That said, it's hard to take From a Basement on the Hill for what it is--a truly remarkable record.
Beyond the ghostly preacher's sermon that dances in and out of the first track, "Coast to Coast," the album starts like all his others, a little disappointing. When an artist's music is as structured and deep-veined as Smith's, it's difficult to establish sure footing in a first track. But as the album progresses along, Smith seems less focused than his previous efforts, which in turn benefits the listener with a peppering of his usual George Harrison guitar burnouts ("King's Crossing") and rainy day tape-hiss and whisper numbers, like the stunning "Twilight" and "Memory Lane."
True to form, it's upbeat and wondrous, with songs of love ("Don't Go Down") and loss ("Shooting Star") that bring you back to Smith's Kill Rock Stars days. Add the assortment of junkie laments ("Strung Out Again") and the drug/political/personal entanglement of "A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free", which seems to be the most masterful and complete song in Smith's impressive catalog. With an introduction that sounds straight out of a '70s cop show, the song opens with Smith's conflicted persona and drug addiction, "My Momma told me 'Baby stay clean, there's no in between.'" Soon it launches into a cheery chorus of "Shine on me baby 'cause it's raining in my heart" that'll stop you dead in your tracks. It's a crowning achievement of a final song, one that represents a musical highpoint for Smith.
There is no patchwork of clues to Smith's passing, no telltale signs in lyrics, no detective work needed (and please avoid picking out the morbid lines--and there are plenty--along the way). Just accept From a Basement on the Hill for what it really is--a fond farewell recording from an artist we all hold dearly.