Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Some Enchanted Night

>> Featured Artist: Arctic Monkeys

The new Arctic Monkeys LP has been widely well received, and it's not hard to figure out why. The brash attitude and headstrong songwriting that wooed British critics on last year's Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not has survived the hype. Boy was there a lot of hype. (I mean, NME called Whatever People Say one of the best 5 British albums - ever. Yeah...) Song to song, I enjoyed the band but I never got convinced that this was anything special.

That opinion is starting to be swayed.

With "Brianstorm," the Monkeys unleash a relentless drum mess that intros the April release, Favourite Worst Nightmare. Talk about brash and headstrong. Finally, the band sounds not just like a bunch of hipster pop, but like it's actually doing something important. And urgent (see the drum punctuation around 2:20 and the fidgeting lead guitar riff throughout the song).

If the rest of the album is like its opening cut, I could see it ranking very highly in the end-of-the-year lists.

>> Album Lookout: New Moon

Elliott Smith - Released: May 8, 2007 Kill Rock Stars

For those of you who know me, you already know that I would anticipate the release of a double CD of Elliott Smith rarities more impatiently than Christmas morning. It's a little strange, then, that I've waiting more than a month to post about New Moon.

Covered with outtakes from Elliott's KRS era, 1994-1997 - many of which have been leaked in poorer-quality MP3s on fan sites, this set doesn't feel like new music.

Rather, it plays like a scrapbook of an artist's ideas, which are (suprisingly) laid down with such care even though he probably never thought any of them would be more than a draft.

This puts New Moon into a different category - for a different audience than From a Basement on the Hill. It is not necessarily a must-have for the folks who enjoy a little bit of Elliott now and again (especially if you're familiar mostly with his fully produced Dreamworks).

But for us die-hards, it's remarkable - insight into the songwriter's craft.

Nowhere is that more evident than on an early version of "Miss Misery," the song that got him nominated for an Oscar for Good Will Hunting.

What's interesting is that the song is virtually finished as far as the chord changes and melody are concerned. The lyrics, however, sound as if they're in a rough second or third draft. Sometimes this makes for awkward phrasing (the interludes), but occasionally it shows a slightly different take on a line that perhaps would have been more emotive if left intact.

In fact, the referain (which would later become "Do you miss me, Miss Misery, like you say you do?") is much more hopeful - a rare, refreshing quality for an Elliott Smith song, tempering all the negatives with "But it's all right, some enchanted night I'll be with you."

And I particularly enjoyed "I can't hold my liquor, but I keep a good attitude," which would become "I don't have you with me, but I keep a good attitude."

If anything, it puts on display Elliott's perfectionism and his process. The mere fact that there's an audience for this sort of case study is indicative of how much lasting power the music has and how Elliott will likely go down as one of the greatest - and certainly the most depressed - songwriters of his generation.

>> Reverting to: 1997

Oh, and if you're interested in how "Miss Misery" turned out...

1 comment:

Aaron said...

As far as New Moon is concerned, my question is: who's Mary? Smith wrote 3 songs about her at my count and that's only the obvious ones.

And another question: do songs on this album qualify for the Top Eleventy Billion Songs of '07 list? Because these are no worse in quality than anything released 'properly'.

Aaron