XO was the moment the previously quiet and retiring songwriter Elliot Smith first attempted his cross into the mainstream. First up it was on Big Label Dreamworks and secondly it was properly produced in a functioning studio. The results you'll be glad to hear were absolutely fine. Though more orchestrated and a bit more polished, his superb craftsmanship shone through. Possibly (alongside Either/Or) the pinnacle of his recording career.
Vinyl LP £44.99 BL35
180g hazel black smoke coloured vinyl reissue LP + 11x11 poster on Bong Load Records. Edition of 2,016 numbered copies.
- Coloured vinyl
Vinyl LP £19.99 5728351
180g vinyl reissue LP on Universal.
- Includes download code
9/10 The Doc 8th August 2016
XO marked Elliott Smith's first foray into the realm of fully-orchestrated pop songs, and very good it is too. Not only was Smith a phenomenally talented musician - he plays most of the instruments here himself -, he was also a brilliant arranger, as the multi-layered harmonies of songs like Sweet Adeline and Bled White (not to mention the stunning vocals-only closer I Didn't Understand) attest.
The production isn't as shiny as on the following album Figure 8 and it's all the better for it, although some adherents (me included) still prefer the more stripped back feel of his earlier work. He was an incredibly consistent writer too, and the standard here is very high indeed, with not a bad song to be found on the whole set. Forty quid is an absolutely ridiculous price though, no matter how limited the pressing may be; if you've never heard this, I'd seriously recommend getting a cheap CD copy before chucking that kind of money at it. If you've never heard him before, there are worse places to start - getting this first and working backwards will reveal more and more delights.
9/10 Stephen 4th August 2016
“XO” was Elliott Smith’s fourth album, originally released in 1998. The fact that it was his major label debut combined with him having contributed songs to the “Good Will Hunting” soundtrack the year before, including the Oscar nominated “Miss Misery”, he was becoming increasingly popular. Here, the production values are higher, but that doesn’t necessarily make it better than previous albums, although it really is bloody great!
My favourite album of his was the predecessor to “XO”, “Either/Or”. However, “XO” contains arguably his best song, the sublime “Waltz #2”. “Baby Britain” has a Beatlesy stomp – rhythm guitar respectfully nicked from “Getting Better” and “Bled White” is musically upbeat and melodic despite the lyrics being of a man on the edge “I’m not fucked, not quite” are almost up there with his very best too.
Album opener “Sweet Adeline”, “Tomorrow, Tomorrow” and “Pitseleh” similar to the songs on his first two albums – delicate and intricate guitar accompanying his voice. The higher production values means he can throw more at them – the glorious backing vocals on “Sweet Adeline” and “Tomorrow Tomorrow” and piano on “Pitseleh”.
He rocks out a bit on “Amity” and “A Question Mark” and serves up some delicious pop on “Bottle Up & Explode” complete with lush strings. This is a great album, and although the lo-fi approach of “Either/Or” appeals to me more, there’s not much between the two.
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