Elliott Smith – Figure 8

I think, generally speaking, I took psychology to figure out what was wrong with me, and stayed in it to figure out what’s wrong with people. It seems like the second part is actually fairly simple – a bunch of advanced software running on outdated hardware manifesting itself as a bunch of basic biases – fundamental attribution error, baseline neglect, many others – that are the cause of most of this sorrow. And this: we are not happiness machines, but survival and reproduction machines. All that is elementary to people who know me, but can never use enough repeating. I don’t think it needs to be any deeper.
But me? I still have little idea, aside from the note being a happiness machine. I have, of course, the same biases, but those do more to explain what I’m a disgusting cockbag, not why I’m such a miserable one. Yet still, at age 28 I still dedicate entire days to being miserable, to staving off drinking and depression. And now that I’m unemployed, I’m free to do so without any outside interference messing up my thought patterns! It also makes me a worthless person. But never mind that.
So indulge me in a little Waking Life-esque pseudo-intellectual philosophy: Am I a good person? First we should figure out what is meant by “good.” But first, a few verses about Stalin’s top henchman Molotov, to the tune of “Yesterday”:

MOLOTOV, oh Vyacheslav Molotov
A more interesting guy than Malenkov
Oh Vyacheslav Molotov

In 1952 to ’53
Stalin wanted a new deputy
Nearly turned Molotov in
To the NKVD

But of all the politicians in his day
When Stalin died
The one who cried
Was Molotov

So, I’m a utilitarian, so “good” to most of my purposes (because who gives a shit about meaning well, and I’m not sure how well I mean on a quotidian basis) means “makes the world a better for place for having been in it.” And, well, I’m a straight while guy that grew up and lives in North America. Unless I do something pretty decent with my life then I am prancing around wearing clothes made of suffering and eating food made of suffering, consuming resources better spent on just about charity. But instead I go on eating, wearing, and consuming. So the only good reason not to plan a graceful exit is to plan on doing something good, at some point. And I have always planned on it, but with every day that I can barely leave my bed out of shame and guilt about what an asshole I am my faith in my ability to follow through on my plans gets a bit lessened. I’m getting older and my friends don’t need friends as much as they used to, and someday maybe they won’t need them at all. I want to help everyone, but instead I spend my time paralyzed by my own inability to help myself. It’s pretty funny.
Elliott Smith has some of the feels that I do, so I get a pretty decent amount of mileage from this album on that count alone, and another decent amount from the fact that he’s a pretty solid songwriter and his voice is a positive to listen to.
I mean really, his vox is all ethereal and soft-yet-steady, but he never falls into Bright Eyes-like over-emoting, he just hits his notes and lets the lyrics and music do the communicating. And the music is generally a positive for me – a lot of late-90s slash early oughts alt-rock, with a few too many dramatic strings, but nothing “Disarm”ing (even though they’re about more dramatic things). Riffs are generally on guitar, like god intended, with a few acoustic songs to really bring you back. It’s definitely a bit dated, but not to any serious deleterious effects.
So, generally Elliott’s a wiz at writing sad alt-rock and playing sad acoustic songs. When he branches out he gets out of his league. But “Son Of Sam” and “Junk Bond Trader” and “Happiness” are gsreat songs in generally typical ways, while “Somebody That I Used To Know” and “Easy Way Out” really take things down while keeping up the feels. And the feels are pretty intense, although they get moreso when you know that this is the last album he released before killing himself by stabbing himself in the heart (twice!).
Oh, things are a bit cringe at rare occasions (“Everything Reminds Me Of Her” being an acoustic song says it all), and he’s not a fantastic writer of filler tracks, and he’s not a martyr to anybody but himself, but if you don’t like this then you’re probably a really happy person or something, and I’ll see you next time I’m drunk.

8 / 10


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