Elliot Smith | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Success hasn't spoiled Elliott Smith: on the new Figure 8 (Dreamworks), his second major-label album, he's as mopey as ever, moaning and groaning about his romantic troubles, unable to accept responsibility for any of them, and by turns venomous and indifferent: on one song he croons "Everything means nothing to me" over and over. (Guess you can take the kid out of indie rock, but you can't take the indie rock out of the kid.) The saving grace, as always, is Smith's big-time ease with grandiose Beatlesque hooks. As on 1998's XO, he and producers Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf dress his plangent melodies in a wide variety of classic pop sounds, from a lone strummed acoustic guitar to tinny upright piano to tightly arranged orchestral swells to Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies. The way the various elements play off one another--sharp guitar lines piercing swelling strings on "Stupidity Tries," a melancholy cello line underlining acoustic guitar figures on "Easy Way Out"--is masterful. Still, in the most melodically uplifting tunes there's a strange disconnection between music and words, as if Smith doesn't want to emphasize his catharsis so much as he wants his sing-along melodies to drown out his emotions. Thursday, May 25, 7:30 PM, and next Friday, May 26, 10 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Autumn DeWilde.

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