Boomkat Product Review:
It's all too easy to eulogise excessively over the talents of a departed artist, but the importance of Elliott Smith's songwriting legacy would be hard to overstate. Since his untimely death in 2003, fans have been largely deprived of posthumously released material (Tupac he ain't), with only his unfinished final album, From A Basement On A Hill, making it as far as shop shelves. "New Moon" is a very different collection to that album's broad, at times sprawling ambition, and dates back to Smith's 1994-1997 Kill Rock Stars period which led up to crossover success on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack. In fact, an alternate, early version of his Oscar-nominated 'Miss Misery' (that soundtrack's key song) appears here. Like so much of this collection, it's stripped down to almost nothing - just Smith's guitar and voice - but the hushed gravitas of his delivery is almost unprecedented. The first disc is packed with similarly magnificent work: 'Riot Coming' with its sublime Kurt Cobain-via-Tom Petty melodic sensibilities, and the waltzing 'Angel In The Snow' to name but two highlights. 'High Times' is far from the frivolous stoner anthem the title might suggest. It's a breathtaking post-grunge piece that quietly swells with bristling cymbals and an authoritative emotional intensity that's practically guaranteed to raise hairs on the back of the neck. Disc one is rounded off by the near legendary cover of Big Star's 'Thirteen'. The original's melodic purity and lyrics caught up in the idealism of young love elicits a sense of romance far-removed from the practicalities of so much of Smith's life, which only conspires to make the live-take recording more powerful. The second disc doesn't let up on the high standards set by the first. 'Georgia, Georgia' is an angular, uneasy portrait of self-destruction with lines like "Oh man/What a plan/Suicide" set to make you shudder. The downbeat poetry of 'Placeholder' marks another clear standout, with Smith's unwavering ear for melodic alchemy standing strong amidst the tape hiss. No doubt ardent Elliott Smith fans will already be familiar with the bulk of this material, but it's time to cast aside those poorly mixed, low-bitrate, leaked MP3s. Larry Crane, archivist for the songwriter's estate has undertaken this package's final mixdown, even going so far as to oversee the mastering process. It would have been all too easy for an engineer less close to the source than Crane to have muscled in and 'finished off' these tracks, imposing their own mark on Smith's work. Instead the raw, admirably unconditioned state many of these songs are in pay tribute to the intimate surroundings in which they were recorded, not to mention the chilling honesty and openness with which Smith performed them. Simply put, this is an unmissable document of a sorely missed artist at the very peak of his creative powers. Essential Purchase.