One of the points of this exercise is to be a herald for the art of the complete album in this age of singular digital downloads. So going back and revisiting albums in their entirety that I haven't explored in some time is extremely refreshing for me. Today that album is XO by Elliott Smith.
I know this record has, in the past, caught flack from some Smith purists because a) it was his first jump to a major label as a solo artist and b) that clearly showed in all the bells and whistles he added to his music. Here's why I disagree with those critics. Firstly, yes, this album is not as raw as previous releases and there are certainly large amounts of orchestration and added instrumentation in the form of strings and a horn section and even drum loops on one track. However, the album is still all about Smith, his guitar, his whispery, understated delivery and extremely personal and, at times, depressing lyrics. Not to mention that if you go back and listen to the previous releases this album is a direct continuation of where he was progressing with his music anyway. I mean, if you were a kid who loved toys and someone gave you the golden key to the toy store wouldn't you run around after hours and experiment with every toy in the store? I kind of feel like that's what Smith did with his new, much larger, recording budget.
Again, it's important to note though that the music doesn't suffer. What you still have is some classic late 90's baroque pop - the kind of stuff you would, quite literally, find in a Wes Anderson film. This album, maybe more than any of his other releases did the best job in culling together all of Smith's major influences - Big Star, The Beatles, The Kinks, Bob Dylan, etc. - and allowing him to weave it all together in this brilliant musical tapestry. This may in fact be one of the best albums the 90's gave us (he's certainly one of the best artists of the decade) and if there ever was an album worth revisiting from start to finish it would be this one.