R. Martin | Seattle, WA United States | 01/05/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The first album I ever heard of Elliot Smith was from the movie "Keeping the Faith." It was his song "pitseleh", from his album XO. This was enough to make me go out and buy the album, and I have yet to be disappointed.There are two things that make this musician stand out in a crowd. First comes his incredible music. His harmonic textures and rhythmic off-beating constantly combine to create a much needed breath of fresh air in this bubblegum pop world. I didn't realize how tired I was of the same old songs (and the same boring song form, ABA) until I listened to Elliot, and found his songs so beautiful in their difference. Second, his lyrics are extremely beautiful and very well crafted. This is not easy pop with lyrics that don't mean anything important (or are already familiar because they say the exact same thing as every other pop band). Elliot tackles hard subjects such as depression and lonliness, and yet can balance it out with a song about personal change from something ugly into something beautiful ("independence day"). So it comes to this: though it's not quite polished, and can sometimes be a bit inscrutable, Elliot Smith's music is profound nonetheless. XO is, in my opinion, one of the best examples of this and well worth anything you pay for it."
A great record - but not as great as some other Elliott.
Josh Rothman | Princeton, NJ | 05/04/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"After listening to Roman Candle I went out and bought XO, Figure 8 and Either/Or on the same day. Since I've spent the last week listening to the bunch of them non-stop, I can say this: XO is an excellent record - but not quite as excellent as the ones on either side of it.To me, this record feels like R.E.M.'s "Monster" or Archer Prewitt's "White Sky," a transition record setting the scene for something greater. There're a lot of great songs on here, and they're full of all of Smith's trademarks; even the simplest phrases ("She looks so composed/So she is, I suppose") are cleverly delivered and beautiful in their simplicity. But there're also a lot of over-production which relies too much on the arrangement and not enough on the quiet passion or feeling which makes Elliott Smith the man. People here are saying that Elliott Smith is like the new Nick Drake, but Drake would never have produced a song like "Baby Britain," which is campy and unconvincing, even as though it's fun and has a neat-o harpsichord accent in the bridge. He hits the mark on songs like "Tomorrow, Tomorrow" or "Pitseleh," and I really like "Independence Day," but songs like "Amity" leave you feeling like you've just heard a B-side or an experiment, not a finished track. They're more produced than his other songs, but there's something lacking in the delivery or the songwriting. When Smith's not as his very, very best, he gets smothered under all his production. Sometimes it's lovely, as on "Bled White," but sometimes it's unnecessary, as on "Amity."All the greatness-that-could-have-been on XO is realized on Figure 8, a real five-star record. I say, buy Figure 8 or one of Smith's earlier records before you buy XO. I listen to this CD all the time, but I listen to the others more, and I care about them more, too. I'd lend XO to a friend, I'd keep the others to myself."
A beautiful transition
Lesley Freitas | Chicago, IL USA | 07/08/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Perhaps the best thing about "XO" is that we get to see Elliott Smith very clearly demonstrating the true range and depth of his talent. As amazing as "Roman Candle," "Elliott Smith," and "Either/or" are--and indeed, they are my favorite Elliott Smith albums--those albums require the listener to truly immerse himself in the music; special attention needs to be paid to all the quiet subtleties, or else much of the beauty and uniqueness can be lost. Smith's earlier albums require a desire on the listener's part to let the music bloom in all its glory; "XO" blossoms on first listen.
"XO" clearly stands out from Smith's previous work, simply based on how much production went into the album; no one could ever accuse "Roman Candle," "Elliott Smith," or "Either/or" of being over-produced. But I also think it would be a mistake to call "XO" overproduced. The rawness and urgency of Smith's music are not glossed over, which is generally what is meant when an album is accused of being overproduced. Instead, Smith's increased resources allow him to bring layers to his music that highlight--rather than detract from--the heart of his songs.
Songs such as "Waltz #1" and "Oh Well, Okay" demonstrate this point perfectly. These songs have all the lyrical and musical integrity and richness of Smith's earlier work, yet he simply could not have produced them earlier, particularly in the case of "Waltz #1." In spirit, however, these two songs--as well as the majority of the album--are a perfect continuation of Smith's work. That they are "fuller" songs, at least musically, allows Smith's talent to be more open and upfront, yet they still retain a certain quietness and subtlety.
Several songs stand out as noticeably different from Smith's earlier work, however. "Amity" sounds more like a song Smith would have written for Heatmiser than for a solo album; it is the one sour note on the album. I also find "Baby Britain" to be a new "type" of Smith song, though in this case the development is good. And the last song on the album, "I Didn't Understand," is a beautiful breathy a capella piece which very skillfully sums up the album's themes and brings it to a close.
"XO" had the chance of falling flat, precisely because of Smith's expanded resources; there was a chance that he would not be able to transition from his minimalistic sound to a fuller one. However, as "XO's" rich lushness demonstrates, Smith fulfilled the challenge well, and he produced a record that is true to the soul of his music."
Simply Perfect. Perfect Perfect Perfect!
Talking Wall | Queen Creek, AZ | 01/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Did this guy know how to write catchy hooks or what? Did this guy have a PROFOUND sense of melody and harmony or what?
I suppose I'd heard Elliott Smith at one time or another, possibly took note when watching The Royal Tennenbaums. But I really didn't know who this guy was until recently. I started hearing his name again and again though I can't recall where.
Now, I've been buying and playing music for about 36 years - my first Lp purchase was The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour. My tastes range from the Fab Four to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, King Crimson, Nick Drake, John Martyn, Tom Waits and so on. I like just about anything as long as it comes from the heart.
But I digress. I finally got around to purchasing an Elliott Smith CD - XO. Oh I agonized over whether to buy it, I'd never heard the guy, should I spend the 15 bucks on a guy I've never even heard or play it safe and buy that U2 collection?
Wow!!! I am so glad I purchased this CD! There is not one stinker track, it's all very skilled, wonderfully executed song writing. This is one of the best sessions I have ever heard, it is worth every penny! Don't agonize over it - Buy it! In a way, I'm glad I didn't discover Elliott Smith before he died, I would have been heartbroken. Waltz #1 is one of the most poinantly beautiful things these ears have ever heard and then it's followed by the rocker Amity - somehow it works. Elliot really was amazing!
Everytime I listen to XO I think I have picked a favorite track, then on the next listen it's a new favorite track and then on the next listen... and so it goes.
Don't just just sit there! Start clicking, buy it!
POSTSCRIPT SIX MONTHS LATER:
Along with Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and the Shins' Chutes Too Narrow this is the most played CD in my collection. I still believe it is as close to perfection as a rock CD can ever be. It NEVER grows stale, one of a handful of truly great recordings from the pop genre.
ONE YEAR ON:
It's still a great CD, not getting a lot of rotation these days but I still love it. It is the only Elliott Smith CD I kept. The others were just too darn depressing."
Dark and stately pop brilliance.
David F. Reddig | Twin Falls, ID USA | 01/08/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Too often we save our kindest words for someone until after they're gone. Judging from the reviews of the posthumously-released "From a Basement on a Hill", this seems to be the case with Elliott Smith. Anyone claiming that "Basement" is Smith's finest work either hasn't heard XO, is letting grief cloud his judgement, or simply has no ear for music. In my opinion, about half the songs on "Basement" are little more than loose sketches of ideas for songs. A work-in-progress feeling permeates the album, and one can't help wondering how many of its songs would ever have seen the light of day if Smith were still with us.
Smith's first three solo outings were remarkably stripped-down, unembellished affairs (his first album was a collection of 4-track songs recorded in his bedroom, with Smith singing and playing guitar). Because of his initial lo-fi, DIY approach, many fans were disappointed when they heard he'd jumped to a major label and that his first release on Dreamworks would feature bigger production values.
They needn't have been worried. I can think of no CD in recent memory that better embodies Brian Wilson's attempt at crafting "miniature symphonies" than XO. String arrangements and piano abound (there's even the occasional horn), but XO doesn't sound big or bloated in the least. Smith's economy as a composer and arranger leaves each song with a hushed, intimate feel. And while his lyrics are actually quite dark, most of the songs themselves are so wispy and ethereal they feel as though they're about to evaporate.
That Rolling Stone magazine gave XO a three-star rating is utterly baffling to me. XO is simply pop perfection. There isn't a bad song on the album. There isn't even a so-so song. If you're a fan of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and 60's-tinged folk pop and you don't own a copy of XO, there is a hole in music collection. Buy this album today. You won't regret it.