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Elliott Smith gets a career retrospective. What's essential? What's missing?

August 11, 2010 | 12:58 pm

Elliott When singer-songwriter Elliott Smith died in Los Angeles 2003, he left behind a vast and diverse catalog of his inimitable songwriting and virtuoso musicianship across four different record labels. On Nov. 2, Kill Rock Stars will try to encapsulate it on a single career-retrospective CD and double LP, "An Introduction to ... Elliott Smith."

Smith's progression from the hiss-soaked home recordings of "Roman Candle" to the orchestral suites of "XO" and the acid-tinged noise experiments of the posthumous "From a Basement on the Hill" was never less than fascinating, and "An Introduction" could be a useful first stop for younger fans beginning to unpack his legacy. But as with all retrospectives, the track list is forever up for debate. Most of his indisputable great songs are included -- "Needle in the Hay," "The Biggest Lie," "Angeles" and "Between the Bars" -- ably represent his KRS years, generally considered his creative peak by most fans.

But the compilation leans a bit heavily on his breakthrough "Either/Or," and curiously skirts all but one track, "Waltz #2," from his much-underrated major label debut "XO" (it also takes only one from its follow-up, "Figure 8"), and leaves off a few of his most beloved stray recordings. No cover of Big Star's "Thirteen"? Only an early demo version of "Miss Misery," the song he performed at the 1998 Oscars? No "High Times," probably the most harrowing song on the B sides collection "New Moon"?

Licensing such a wide catalog surely posed its own difficulties, and synopsizing his career on one record is an impossible effort. But hopefully, this will spur curious fans to pick up absolutely everything he's done -- there still hasn't been a singer-songwriter who can match Smith at his best. Full track list after the jump, and David Greenwald has more thoughts over at Brand X.

-- August Brown

Photo by Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

1. "Ballad of Big Nothing" -- from "Either/Or"

2. "Waltz #2" -- from "XO"

3. "Pictures of Me" -- from "Either/Or"

4. "The Biggest Lie" -- from "Elliott Smith"

5. "Alameda" -- from "Either/Or"

6. "Between the Bars" -- from "Either/Or"

7. "Needle in the Hay" -- from "Elliott Smith"

8. "Last Call" -- from "Roman Candle"

9. "Angeles" -- from "Either/Or"

10. "Twilight" -- from "From a Basement on the Hill"

11. "Pretty (Ugly Before)" -- from "From a Basement on the Hill"

12. "Angel in the Snow" -- from "New Moon"

13. "Miss Misery" (early version) -- from "New Moon"

14. "Happiness" (single version) -- from "Figure 8"

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