Either/Or is an album where you have most definitely heard a song without realizing where it came from. It’s unfathomable to consider this album as simply a side project for Elliott Smith and not as a masterpiece of the 90’s indie scene. It’s singles were plastered all over the film Good Will Hunting where Smith was nominated for an Academy Award.
The lyricism and instrumentation of Either/Or conjure very specific images, textures, and usually romantic situations. And yet, Smith, as with many other great songwriters, used this specific nature to explore through multiple levels of emotional themes that resonate both deeply and broadly. Nowhere is this clearer than in “Between The Bars”, possibly the most famous song off the album, covered by hundreds of artists from deep into the indie scene like Metric to pop icons like Madonna. It’s a song that’s not exactly about love and not exactly about addiction, hence the title.
As the album propels forward, it becomes increasingly obvious that Smith can effortlessly amplify his well-honed songwriting ability as his arrangements become more fleshed out. “Ballad Of Big Nothing” imitates the McCartney-esque baseline that has such a groove that it can be fooled for a simplified Beatles cover that only needed an orchestral arrangement. Songs like “Angeles” and “Cupid’s Trick” provide a back-to-back on Smith’s versatility and complexity as a guitarist.
As the album comes to a closer with “Say Yes”, it becomes clear that the solo acoustic approach was an artistic choice rather than Smith’s musical default. The lonely sounds of a guitar mimic an audible aurora that the listener cannot detach from.