366 Songs 004: Sweet Adeline

Probably the first of many Elliott Smith songs to appear across the next year, this song’s been in my head for some reason recently that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s the opening track of XO, his second last/third last album depending on whether or not you count the posthumous From A Basement on The Hill (I do, for what little it’s worth; it’s got a lot of my favorite Elliott Smith moments on it, even though it’s haunting and heartbreaking and magically charged in all manner of weird ways that I still feel a little uncomfortable with), and I’m never quite sure whether or not I consider it a full song or just a smart and somewhat funny musical trick to introduce people to the musical mindset of the album.

It opens, after all, like all manner of earlier Elliott Smith songs, finger-picking and melancholy lyrics (“Cut this picture into you and me/Burn it backwards, kill this history” being the opening lines, which are the kind of thing that feel very Smithian, at once personal and universal because who hasn’t felt that kind of sadness and grief at the end of a relationship?), but after the second verse, the song explodes into… a full band, perhaps? But no, not really; it explodes into a full arrangement, perhaps, with the bridge – There’s no chorus to this song, hence me wondering at times whether it’s a full song or not; it goes verse/verse/bridge/verse – before fading back into something quieter and sadder for the final verse. But it’s that explosion that’s the wonderful thing, a surprise if you’ve never heard the song before but every other time from then, the release of pressure that you can feel build up until that point (The mellotron quietly coming in on the second verse!)… I’m not synaesthetic, but the way the bridge just opens into the drums, the piano, the bass always makes me think of a timelapse sequence of a flower blooming, before withering and dying, or a firework exploding. Something lovely but temporary, and gone so quickly that you can’t even really remember what it was like properly by the time you’ve realized what had happened.

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