Figure 8

In recent years Elliott Smith has owned up to his fear of playing the kind of music he wanted. A bit of a mope, Smith avoids discussing his Dallas boyhood and has veiled much of his earlier work in an obtuse cloud of hipness, resulting in pop Chinese food. Yet armed with the same production team from 1998’s XO, Figure 8 lifts the gauze to expose some bare emotion. Smith’s considerable melodic gifts may still be the star of the show, but the anger of “Easy Way Out,” The false bravado of “Somebody That I Used To Know,” and the pain of “Everything Reminds Me Of Her” hog the spotlight. A few attempts to make Smith rock—he just doesn’t&—fall flat, but as one of the most talented of only a handful of major label artists working in pop music, it’s gratifying to see him reaching out. He has the right role models; his admiration of Smokey Robinson’s universal appeal is no secret. After hearing Figure 8, who wouldn’t second that emotion?

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