SHUFFLER 0047: CHEAP ANGST LOVE LETTERS
Monday, November 3, 2014
Elliott Smith – “Fear City” from New Moon (2007 Kill Rock Stars)
In 2007, when New Moon was released, Elliott Smith had been dead for four years. One of a handful of posthumous releases by the troubled troubadour (phrases like that are sure to land me a job with the mainstream music journalism elites), much of the album, including “Fear City,” drew from the 1997 Either/Or sessions.
The more I think about it, I think a lot of Smith’s charm, or, hmm, that word isn’t quite right, let’s say his draw, is in the fact that he was incredibly unique, and so always sounded like himself, but at the same time he was rather difficult to pin down. Moreover, the emotional content of his lyrics didn’t often square with the music he set them to.
“Fear City” achieves a rather fasicnating effect in that Smith’s vocals and guitar strumming just barely restrain a certain rage, or, to borrow a phrase, angst, but are set against the rather subduing force of a kind of sixties mod keyboard. The song isn’t altogether dark, nor is it altogether cheery, and there’s something sinister in that amiguity.
Smith sings about “trying to bring some dead beauty back to life” and seeing his city dead while “trying to get your cops right” and while maybe the fine details of what exactly he’s talking about are unclear, given everything we know about him, his drug use, his penchant for cloaking drug references in his lyrics, and his untimely demise, it’s difficult to read this as a straight pop song.
After all, he explains, he’s “got no interest now in adressing your kids with cheap angst love letters.” It’s a little embarrassing, but sometimes when I’m not doing a very good job of focusing my attention, it’s not altogether too difficult for me to confuse the circumstances of Kurt Cobain’s biography with Elliott Smith’s, and didn’t Nirvana have a lot to say on the topic of being media darlings and spokespersons for the youth? It seems that Smith is attempting here to eschew fame and all of its trappings. If only he could have done that without leaving us altogether.