figure 8
written by richard martin, taken from select

elliott smith
figure 8, dreamworks

fourth lp from the american singer-songwriter. recorded at abbey road and in elliott's new hometown of la.

'dear prudence' chord sequences, 'strawberry fields' mellotrons and 'hey jude' singalong codas...if the new oasis album proves anything it's that their beatles plagiarism remains as greatest hits-orientated as ever. these clumsy homages also help help spotlight acts whose use of a fabs influence is a little more clever - noel is currently proclaiming the brilliance of texas' cotton mather, and just as as 'standing on the shoulder of giants' collides with the public consciousness, here comes elliott smith.

elliott's a card-carrying beatlefreak. he recorded a version of lennon's 'because' for the soundtrack of american beauty, and crafted some of 'figure 8' at abbey road. he's a famously reticent soul, but when you hear him talk about the fact the fact that the piano on the track 'in the lost and found' is the same one paul mccartney played on 'penny lane', he almost sounds excited. broken-hearted acoustic songs like 'somebody i used to know' and 'can't make a sound' have the same grace and lyrical economy as such early beatles songs as 'i'm a loser' and 'i don't want to spoil the party' (both from 1964's 'beatles for sale'). 'stupidity tries' oozes an edgy sound that could've fitted on the white album, and 'in the lost and found' is exactly the kind of charming doodle that mccartney used to shoe-horn on to later beatles lps.

but the beatles are only one part of this lp's patchwork. another is explained by the fact that some of 'figure 8' was recorded in la - and despite elliott's swingers-style dedication to being miserable in the face of sunshine, the perfect weather does seem to have impacted on his muse. the lp's most gorgeous songs are all throwbacks to early '70s californian rock: all fm radio, three part harmonies and sunday barbecues at crosby stills and nash's house.

but's it's not sunshine all the way. 'son of sam' finds elliott claiming "i'm not uncorfortable with feeling weird". 'junk bond trader' is a see-through portrait of some hollywood smackhead: "a permanent installment of the daily dose...boy, there's a drug you take too regularly". however it's the track 'la' that epitomises this lp. seemingly a tribute to the idealised angeleno existence, it's air of easy-going joy is only fractured by the chorus. " living in the day," sings elliott, as if he's almost amazed at himself (as a rule he likes to drink till 4am). then comes the twist: "last night i was about to throw it all away". whether crafting perfect beatles-esque melodies or sun-kissed hymns to the good life, he can't help but admit the fact that things are never that good.

so, no matter how sparkling his music sounds, it should still resonate with those who coveted elliott smith records for the same reason that box-bedroom melancholics like belle & sebastian. and if his propensity for self-flagellation can get a bit much - 'everything reminds me of her' and 'i better be quiet now' are drippy, unfocused things this 16-track album could have done without, it's a glitch rather than a handicap. 'figure 8' is the most fully realised elliott smith album yet. unlike some people, he has precious little need to stand on anyone's shoulder.

thanks to ian