Author(s): Matthew LeMay
This book focuses on the genius of Smith's 1998 debut that remains his defining album. Many albums could be cited to support the claim that great suffering yields great art. Elliott Smith's "XO" should not be one of them. Smith's 1998 major label debut defies the 'tortured singer-songwriter' stereotype and takes up this defiance as a central theme. At a time when Smith was being groomed for a particular (and particularly condescending) brand of stardom, he produced a record that eviscerated one of the central assumptions of singer-songwriters: that pain is beautiful. Indeed, "XO" insists that romanticizing personal tragedy can only leave you 'deaf and dumb and done'. It backs up this claim with some of the most artful and intelligent music of its day. While these themes permeate "XO", the record hardly registers like a thesis statement. The album's title cleverly reflects one of its central concerns - the difference between how we present ourselves and the damage we do through such self-denial. It's simple lyrical phrasing and characteristically hesitant vocal delivery have led many to overlook how mean, witty and incisive XO is.
Matthew LeMay has been a staff writer at Pitchfork Media since 2000. His band, Get Him Eat Him, will release their second album in the summer of 2007. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.