Incorporating lush strings and vibrant horns into his sonic dreamscapes, Elliott Smith uses his fourth solo album to bridge past works to the future. XO finds Smith slipping easily from his hallmark quiet moodiness into brighter, bigger sounds, suggesting that the melancholy singer-songwriter may ultimately fulfill his musical destiny as the one-man Simon & Garfunkel.
For those who may remember Smith as the slight, white-suited figure awkwardly sandwiched between Celine Dion and Trisha Yearwood at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, the songs here retain a comforting, familiar allegiance to Smith’s Oscar-nominated “Miss Misery”.
Modestly dramatic musical shifts, however, push XO leaps and bounds beyond his previous work. Numerous ’60s and ’70s pop references (“Crimson And Clover”, “Cathy’s Clown”, Carly Simon, et al.) construct an obvious cultural framework as Smith’s orchestral maneuvers compose a flowery pop symphony. From the choral-like harmonies of songs such as “Sweet Adeline” and “Independence Day” to the richly textured ambience of “Baby Britain” and “Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands”, Smith recalls the best of late-era Beatles, Badfinger and the Zombies.
As always, however, it’s Smith’s dark persuasions that define his work. “I’m so glad my memory’s remote, ‘cuz I’m doing just fine hour to hour, note to note,” Smith broods with a gloomy eloquence. “Here it is, the revenge to the tune: You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, baby you’re no good.”