Mr. Smith was going to have a very tough time even matching the overall quality of his last release, XO, so I approached the listening of this release with cautious optimism, trying not to place the bar too high to meet expectations. I can report that not only were these expectations met, but they were exceeded to the extent that this release is one of the finest this year in any genre. This is possibly Elliott’s best work yet.
I first became acquainted with ES’s work through an astute friend of mine with impeccable taste in music. I then read an interview with the great pop songwriter Aimee Mann who touted his work. That was enough for me.
Figure 8 is a collection of excellent songs and great performances. Without diminishing Mr. Smith or either of these artists, a comparison might be to Matthew Sweet or Paul McCartney. It is the rare artist who can pen and perform songs with sparse instrumentation and pull it off. Either the song and voice shines or it falls flat. Sweet, McCartney and Smith all can pull off such sparse arrangements. On Figure 8, I invite you to experience the phosphorescent brilliance of the bare songs “Somebody that I Used to Know”, “I Better be Quiet Now,” and “Easy Way Out.” But these tracks are not even the highlights.
“Everything Reminds Me of Her” is a beautiful track that brings me into Smith’s world. Simple heartfelt lyrics like: “...so if I seem a little out of it, sorry…but why should I lie…everything reminds me of her.” It doesn’t rhyme. It’s not classically clever. Just real, like all of Smith’s best stuff. The next track, “Everything Means Nothing to Me” is another heartfelt theme with an astonishing climb of a chorus. The strings at the end are breathtaking. Other highlight tracks are “LA” which has a great rock bite.
I would love to see Smith break through with this recording. He is one of the last real artists left on a major label with songwriting mastery, a keen knowledge of rock history and an honest respect for the really great artists such as The Beatles, and lesser known bands such as Big Star.
Let’s make this a Top Ten record.