London Highbury Garage

[B]Elliott[/B] knows that, in the fickle world of lo-fi folkiness, Being A Bit Rubbish equals Credibility...

In the great London Marathon of rock, Elliott Smith is one of the worthy plodders. As he sighs, shrugs and slopes dutifully into newie 'No Easy Way Out' you can picture him there: dressed in a cumbersome 6ft foam-rubber plaid shirt, sweating rivers, struggling ever onward. For all his pathetic waves at the crowd, you know deep inside he wishes he'd never agreed to take part in this arduous, unforgiving carnival of fools in the first place.

Right now, Elliott Smith would rather be home in bed cribbing from a well-thumbed copy of Red House Painters: Our Misery In Obtuse Sixth-Form Imagery. He's a studio troubadour, a master of the tweak and tweeter. Big, crude speaker stacks have the same effect on his muse as Kryptonite on Superman. But that road keeps a-callin', so on he plods, the Droopy Dog of US squintcore - nil woodsman hat, face like Barbara Cartland's left bosom - and pretends to be quirky. In a painfully humble sort of way.

He picks at his guitar like it's something distasteful he's just found in his slipper. He sings with all the volume and confidence of a choirboy feeling his first bollock drop. On record the likes of 'Waltz #2 (XO)' and 'Baby Britain' are understated beauties of harpsichord and shimmery pop hook. In the flesh, in stripped-down three-piece mode, they're 'The Smurfs Play Red House Painters!'. On record, Elliott Smith is a genius. In the flesh he's, well, a bit on the unbearably dull side.

He plays, he shrugs, he plays again, seemingly after either our pity or our contempt. But HAHA! The joke's on you, Smitho! Because it's this very pfmmpf-splutter-will-this-do? attitude that makes Elliott Smith so 'cool'. See, if he were to play skewwhiff folk-pop tunes like the new 'Stupidity Tries' and 'Say Yes' adroitly and add some depth, polish and style then he'd be The Rembrandts or Fountains Of Wayne (even Menswear on 'Pictures Of Me'). A bit of honest beef on the bones of 'Ballad Of Big Nothing' and 'Independence Day' and he'd be Teenage Fanclub without the Status Quo fetish.

But Elliott knows that, in the fickle world of lo-fi folkiness, Being A Bit Rubbish equals Credibility. So he's careful not to stray from just the wrong side of inept. He plays these synapse-shagging pop masterpieces so weedily, so off-key and with such a convincing impression of yer typical indie shamblebum that they appeal to the Sebadoh fanatic in us all: the kind of person in the 20-something flux between flogging all their old Dinosaur Jr records and hearing themselves say, "Actually darling, this year's Fleadh line-up's fairly impressive."

Everyone here needs to stop fooling themselves. The crowd should drop their lo-fi blinkers and go jump about to Weezer like they secretly want to. And Elliott needs to stop acting like a floppy, blushing rock Orville and fly, right up to the sky. You can. You can...

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