Shabby and shambling of appearance, Elliott Smith's look matched his songs in his earlier records. He was he weird loner who would win the race because he was so damn good. On Figure 8 they airbrushed both his face and his sound making a slick and polished record that saw those loveable rough edges smoothed away. Still they couldn't completely ruin Elliott Smith and Figure 8 features many examples of his the Beatles-esque prowess with a haunted melody. "I'm the wrong kind of person to famous" he once said and it's true - we loved him just the way he was.
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They tried to make him look younger on the sleeve by sticking him in a cardigan and airbrushing his face and that pretty sums up this record by the renowned songsmith. Where earlier albums had that raw lo-fi appeal, 'Either/Or' had all the good songs, 'XO' did the same with higher fi production, 'Figure 8' was the one where nuts and bolts were added on and Smith's songs were fleshed out.
Sometimes this tinkering was not necessary - there's just no need for the honky tonk piano on the otherwise brilliant 'Son of Sam' but there's also moments when producer Tom Rothrock allows Smith to bare all 'Somebody That I Used to Know'. Mainly though this is Smith with bells on but none of this ruins a record that still easily showcases his excellent songwriting skills and marries big breezy rockers 'Junk Bond Trader', 'LA' with late period Big Star style barren piano pieces such as 'Everything Means Nothing to Me'. This is akin putting a child in a sweet shop, Smith has everything at his disposal and creates an enormous (16 tracks) varied opus.
However much his more stripped back albums hit this heart harder, 'Figure 8' is still an impressive romp through Beatles-esque melodies and updated turn of the millenium power pop.
8/10 The Doc 3rd June 2016
Elliott Smith's back catalogue is damn near perfect. Whether it's the acoustic guitar and low-rent, Carver-esque short-stories of his first three, the melancholy George Harrison pop of XO or the posthumous beauty of From A Basement On the Hill and New Moon, it's more or less impossible to find a bad song. This one is the runt of the litter for me - still a great record but one that doesn't quite scale the heights of his other releases.
There are some great songs on here - Wouldn't Mama Be Proud? is a great sunny-day pop song, despite the miserably lyrics, and Can't Make A Sound is another real highlight. There's just something about the production on here that's a little too clean and shiny; I always loved the greyscale feel of his early work, especially in the lyrics, but the widescreen sounds of this one detracts from that a little bit for me. It's still an excellent record and a valuable part of his body of work, but if you're new to him, get Either/Or - possibly my favourite record ever -, and work backwards from there.
8/10 Penrith Steve 26th October 2014
Elliott Smith’s fifth album “Figure 8” sees him mixing his usual downbeat acoustic sound with some more upbeat, rockier numbers such as “LA”, “Son of Sam”, “Wouldn't Mama Be Proud” and “Junk Bond Trader”. This album is quite different, therefore, to his masterpiece, “Either/Or”, However, his trademark sound is evident in the beautiful songs “Somebody I Used To Know”, “Color Bars” and “Easy Way Out”. His Abbey Road-era Beatles influence in shown here, perhaps more than anything that came previously, specifically on “Can’t Make a Sound” as it could be George Harrison playing guitar. It’s not his best but nevertheless a great album.
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