Documentary soundtrack unearths rarities to thrill longtime fans
For an artist who inspired as intense devotion, and was as prolific, as Elliott Smith, it comes as some surprise that the Portland singer-songwriter’s archive – chock-full of unreleased songs, fascinating demos and illuminating alternate takes – hasn’t been excavated more thoroughly over the years.
Arriving nearly a decade after the posthumous compilation New Moon, Heaven Adores You is a much welcome addition to the Smith oeuvre. It’s the soundtrack to a 2015 documentary about Smith, collecting 20 live TV appearances, unfinished songs, unaltered album tracks and instrumental sketches. Don’t expect a seamlessly cohesive album: The only narrative thread here is that portions of all these tunes appeared in the film.
With early versions of songs that were outtakes themselves – see “Don’t Call Me Billy,” a predecessor to New Moonnugget “Fear City” – this collection is not for the uninitiated. But for those excited by the very existence of an early version of “Coast to Coast,” or by a Roman Candle-era instrumental named (by Smith himself) “Untitled Soft Song in F,” genuine revelations await. The full-band take on 1995’s “Christian Brothers” proves that even at his most pensive, Smith was often just a rhythm section away from piercing grunge. On the other hand, “Plainclothes Man” reduces Heatmiser’s backing track and is instead a solo-electric masterwork that portrays a frontman with his sights set on going solo.
Then there’s “True Love,” an intensely personal, oft-rewritten outtake from the last few years of Smith’s life that serves as the record’s most thrilling unearthing. Moments like these show why Elliott Smith – consummate lyricist, meticulous craftsman, and avid self-editor that he was – deserves an extensive archival treatment as much as a Cobain or a Dylan.