Elliott Smith’s ‘Either/Or’ To Be Re-Issued On Kill Rock Star With Rare Recordings
I woke up to the news that Elliott Smith’s third album, ‘Either/Or’ will be reissued on March 10th via Kill Rock Stars to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The deluxe expanded edition, which will feature a remastered, cleaner-sounding version of the original album, will be available on 2 LP, 2 CD and digital formats. It will feature a 8 page booklet with new liner notes from Larry Crane and previously unreleased photos, and several extra tracks, including five live recordings from Olympia, Washington’s Yo Yo A Go Go Festival in 1997, along with four rare and unreleased studio recordings.
Among these rare recordings you will be able to listen to a previously unheard version of ‘I Figured You Out’, a song Elliott recorded as a demo in 1995, and that he rarely performed during his early years, But, to be honest, he included it more often in his setlists during his last years. ‘All right, you want to hear a stupid pop song I wrote in about a minute?’ he once introduced the song at an intimate 1997 gig in 1997. He eventually gave it away to his friend Mary Lou Lord because he thought the song sounded ‘like the fuckin’ Eagles’! Elliott always hated the Eagles, so I am not sure how he would feel to see this song in this new collection. But does it matter? I have never heard the Eagles in it anyway, and fans will certainly appreciate this new version, that even Mary Lou Lord has never heard. ‘People have been asking me if I’d ever heard this version. Nope. I’m pretty sure he must have recorded this right around the same time we did the cover one. SO glad this is seeing the light of day. Such an amazing song,’ she wrote on her Facebook page.
On the other hand. did we really need a cleaner-sounding version of ‘Either/Or’? This is always a question I am asking to myself when there is a remastered issue of anything. Recording engineer Larry Crane, who is the archivist of Smith’s estate and owner of Portland, Oregon’s Jackpot! Studios, re- mastered the album with the help of mastering engineer Adam Gonsalves, and according to the New York Times, they ‘had more leeway to experiment with the sound of the reissue, which they beefed up, using new technology, while removing excess noise for additional sonic clarity’. ‘It started to feel like we were lifting the veil off,’ said Crane said. I can’t really comment because I haven’t listened to the album yet, but I had never felt a veil had to be lifted.
In March 2010, Larry Crane’s remastering (or not) of Elliott Smith’s albums (‘Roman Candle’ and ‘From a Basement on the Hill’) were already re-issued on Kill Rock Star, but people failed to notice major differences: ‘aside from a remastering job on Roman Candle that tweaks the volume and tones down the guitar squeaks between Smith’s chord changes, the albums are straightforward repressings, providing nothing else to warrant people who already own the albums to acquire them in these newest incarnations,’ wrote Pop Matters and some fans were even upset someone would dare to touch the masterpiece. ‘I’m getting pretty much bashed around there on message boards for something nobody’s heard,’ said Larry Crane to Spinner at the time. I am sure he feels the same kind of pressure with this new re-issue, or at least, he should. Part of the magic of these early recordings is their technical imperfection and I always feel uneasy at the idea of retouching them, whereas a remastering always sounds like a repackaging of the same product as an excuse for marketing.
According to the Times, the other rare recordings will include a new version of ‘I Don’t Think I’m Ever Gonna Figure It Out,’ the B side to the 1996 ‘Either/Or’ single ‘Speed Trials’; a short and playful keyboard take on ‘New Monkey,’ from ‘New Moon’; and an alternate recording of ‘Bottle Up and Explode!,’ from the 1998 album ‘XO,’ with completely different lyrics. As for the live recordings, the setlist of the Yo Yo A Go Go gig is listed here, and the five tracks which will be included are: ‘My New Freedom’, ‘Pictures Of Me,’ ‘Angeles’, ‘Some Song’, and ‘Rose Parade’.
This project was first conceived a decade ago, for the 10th anniversary of the album, but at that time Crane discovered a lot of unheard material in the archives and the estate decided to release ‘New Moon’ instead.
I partially understand the fans’ hunger to hear new material when an artist is dead and if I completely understood the release of ‘New Moon’ featuring unheard songs – except on live bootlegs – this new re-issue feels much more exploitative to me. Let’s face it, there are no new songs here, nothing you haven’t heard before and the album (with Elliott’s discography on Kill Rock Star) was already re-issued in 2012 for what should have been his 43rd birthday… When fans are already jumping of joy at the idea of the release, I am gonna say something very unpopular… How many versions of the same song, how many re-issues of the same album do we need to own? And are we going to see the same kind of re-issue for the anniversary of each album? Sorry to rain on your rose parade.
Speed Trials (remastered)
Ballad of Big Nothing (remastered)
Between the Bars (remastered)
Pictures of Me (remastered)
No Name No.5 (remastered)
Rose Parade (remastered)
Punch and Judy (remastered)
Cupid’s Trick (remastered)
2:45 AM (remastered)
Say Yes (remastered)
My New Freedom (live) ^*
Pictures of Me (live) ^*
Angeles (live) ^*
Some Song (live) ^*
Rose Parade (live) ^*
New Monkey (keys)*
I Don’t Think I’m Ever Gonna Figure It Out (remixed/remastered) *
I Figured You Out *
Bottle Up and Explode! (alternate version) *
^ recorded live at YoYo a GoGo 1997 in Olympia, WA
* previously unreleased