100 Greatest Albums of the 90’s: #44

Elliott Smith – Either/Or

Part of Elliott Smith’s appeal was the sheer nakedness of what he was saying. He pretty much invented a lot of the “emo” clichés, but unlike his legions of whiny imitators, Smith really means it (which was pretty much proved beyond doubt by his suicide). Plus he’s just better at it than they’ll ever be. Alcoholism is rarely expressed so beautifully as it is in ‘Between The Bars’, a love letter from bottle which vividly summons up images of a snake quietly coiling around a helpless victim. Then there’s ‘2:45AM’ is a harrowing exorcism of night-time demons. Even though his canyons of despair are mined to the earth’s core, there are occasionally moments where he looks like he’s ready to pick himself up. While ‘Say Yes’ ultimately alludes to rejection, it’s riddled with determination; a refusal to give in. The songs themselves are lovingly crafted and each melody is as pretty as a glass of water after a 3-mile run. He sounds like so many of his influences (The Beatles, Nick Drake, Big Star) but is still uniquely Elliott Smith. The fact that it was recorded on a home 4-track tape recorder only adds to the fact that ‘Either/Or’ is authentic down to the last detail, from the moment he audibly hits “Record”.

Listen to: Ballad of Big Nothing


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