written by richard martin, taken from willy week

of related interest: late heatmiser, the apples in stereo, paul mccartney's "pipes of peace"

you've probably encountered a zillion reviews of elliott smith's major-label debut and first record in the post-oscar-nomination spotlight; every critic in america agrees that smith is a genius and that "xo" is a masterpiece. i'm here to offer a dissenting opinion. it's trite to call someone's album "overproduced," especially since a guy with such strong pop sensibilities at some point needs to get out of the bedroom and into a studio with microphones worth more than the gnp of ecuador. bus smith and his l.a. buddies lay everything on so think that it over-shadows the raw emitionality of the lyrics and the tunes. the surging pop songs work fine; "baby britain" sounds as if it's playing on the radio in a station wagon with faux paneling on the sides, and "bled white" hides a sober declaration of fragility behind a bouyant, free-floating melodicism. songs that update the shuffle-and-sulk of his first three albums --- "waltz #2 (xo)," "independence day," and "a question mark" in particular ---also cut through the sheen. elsewhere, smith sounds distant and perhaps caught in a choice between crafting a perfect pop record and maintaing the lo-fi gentleness of his earlier work. "xo" is worthwhile, but it's much more a stepping stone than the magnum opus it's cracked up to bed.