Obsessions (One)

There are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who love music, and those that don’t. Those for whom music is a massive part of their lives, making them complete, and those for whom music is simply a background noise to their lives. And if you love music1 you’ll get obsessed with songs. Sometimes new songs, sometimes old. Last couple of days I’ve had two songs going round my head. The first is Elliott Smith’s “Clementine”. The other I’ll tell you about tomorrow.

Elliott Smith’s music, like Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake and many others, has become overshadowed by his untimely and tragic death. But I’m not going to dwell on that, or his manifest personal problems that led to his death here2. I just want to say quickly how great an artist he was, and how the release of a new “Best Of” (or rather, “An Introduction To“) has made me dive back into his back catalogue.

Elliott’s earlier records were often just him singing with his acoustic. His skills as a guitarist are often overlooked as people concentrate on his introspective, sometimes painful lyrics, but the simplicity of “Clementine” allows his huge talent to shine through. Opening with the telling line “They’re waking you up to close the bar”, the song tells of a man who’s well on his way to losing his love. Whether he’s lost his girl through his drinking, or he’s drinking because he’s losing his girl, it’s not clear, but anyone who’s ever had their heart broken can lose themselves in this song. At the climax, Elliott, not unexpectedly, starts singing “Oh My Darling Clementine”, a bitter twist of humour.

The guitar gently mirrors the vocal line like a good dance partner, occasionally breaking off to do its own thing before returning to his gentle embrace. And his singing is as good as you’ll get from him; warm, quiet, soft, the depth of emotion sucking you in, makes you lean into the speakers or turn up your headphones, dragging you into Elliott’s oh-so-personal world.

“Clementine” is one of the songs not on the new CD, but then again, with an artist like Elliott Smith, you’re never going to make everyone happy. As far as I go, I’m just happy it’s out there and getting good marks; like the excellent Drowned In Sound review said: “I’m both surprised when people are familiar with him and incredulous when they’re not.” This CD is as good as you could expect; if you like just a couple of the songs off it you’d still be mad not to buy everything he did from “Elliott Smith” through to “XO“, at least; because you’ll find gems like this here track.

Seven years ago the world lost one of the finest singer-songwriters of his generation. I’ve known this particular song for well over ten years, and the fact that I can still get obsessed by it tells you how good he was.

MP3: Clementine by Elliott Smith

Buy Loads Of Elliott Smith From Here

1 If you don’t, what the hell are you doing here?

2 Probably once I reach him on the Pitchfork trip. And yep, it’ll be about 1000 words.