Somewhere between acquiring a broader musical palette and bouts of Oscar madness, Elliott Smith has become an unlikely pop star. And he did it all by himself. By Matthew Fritch
“Hi, this is Elliott Smith and it’s been 10 years. Congratulations.” As the video camera’s red light flickers out, Smith shoots a wry, sideways grin at me, obviously amused at the multimedia invasion (well, me and the guy with the camera) going on in his dressing room. He’s just flatly delivered his line for a promotional spot marking the anniversary of the venue where he’s performing tonight.
Smith shakes his head. “It’s strange,” he says. “Ever since I got here, they’ve been asking me to do that. I’ve never even been here before.”
Lately, we’ve been seeing Smith in all the unfamiliar places: the Academy Awards, MTV, Entertainment Weekly. And now gracing the cover of a plush, orchestrated pop record for the DreamWorks mega-label.
XO is the album, and its compositions appropriately conjure the intimacy of handwritten notes, heartwarming and heartsick sentiments and, of course, hugs and kiss-offs to lovers, friends and those who just don’t understand. Whether Smith’s migration from Portland, Ore., to Brooklyn last year had any inspirational effect is a question that doesn’t need asking; New York City is imprinted upon the record like a silent partner’s songwriting credit, lyrically hovering in the background alongside the cosmopolitan touches of piano, strings and brass arrangements. It’s safe to say that no one will call XO a folk record.