Contact Us

19 Years Ago: Elliott Smith’s ‘Roman Candle’ Album Released

Elliott Smith, Roman Candle
Cavity Search

A Roman candle, by definition, is a firework that spits fire in calculated intervals. It’s the perfect metaphor for young songwriter Elliott Smith, whose solo debut, ‘Roman Candle,’ turns 19 today.

Released when Smith was still a member of Heatmiser, a band he’d formed at Hampshire College with friend Neil Gust, ‘Roman Candle’ plays like a stack of songs Smith wasn’t able to ‘Miser-ize. Every songwriter knows that there are some songs that just don’t fit the band mold (or might not make the cut with his bandmates), the most notable example being George Harrison, an obvious influence on Smith’s work.

If you’re not familiar with Heatmiser’s output (we’d suggest picking up ‘Mic City Sons’), it’s mish-mash of Smith’s and Gust’s fully realized and arranged but highly divergent musical tastes. Smith’s tunes echo the folk-rock that what would become his signature sound, while Gust’s are more steeped in the alt-era stylings of the Lemonheads or Blake Babies.

In that sense, ‘Roman Candle’ was a big leap forward for Smith, who up to that point had arranged his songs for a band. This time, it was just him, an acoustic guitar, doubled lead vocals, sparse percussion and the occasional overdub. You might say Smith was the band, and while it’s simplest set of tunes in Smith’s canon, it might be the most starkly personal. To wit: Four of the tracks are simply called ‘No Name,’ and despite the lack of hits, there’s plenty of sheer brilliance. ‘Last Call’ builds into an otherworldly thunderhead of emotion (“I wanted her to tell me / that she would never wake me”), while ‘No Name #2,’ which should be renamed ‘Suite for Guitar and Harmonica,’ would have fit on any of Smith’s later albums.

It’s impossible to write ‘Roman Candle’ off as just dirty bathwater. Compare it to the stuff that was coming out at the time, and the record looks fairly revolutionary. Not that very many people took notice at the time. Smith would have to wait until his fourth album, 1998′s ‘XO,’ to reach the Billboard 200, and even then, he only hit No. 104. His highest chart placement would come with 2004′s ‘From a Basement On a Hill,’ though by then, he was already gone.

Matthew Sweet's 'Altered Beast' Released

Best of the Web

Festival Fever News

Leave a Comment

It appears that you already have an account created within our VIP network of sites on . To keep your points and personal information safe, we need to verify that it's really you. To activate your account, please confirm your password. When you have confirmed your password, you will be able to log in through Facebook on both sites.

Forgot your password?

*Please note that your points, prizes and activities will not be shared between programs within our VIP network.

It appears that you already have an account on this site associated with . To connect your existing account with your Facebook account, just click on the account activation button below. You will maintain your existing profile and VIP program points. After you do this, you will be able to always log in to http://diffuser.fm using your Facebook account.

*Please note that your points, prizes and activities will not be shared between programs within our VIP network.

Please fill out the information below to help us provide you a better experience.

Register on Diffuser.fm quickly by logging in with your Facebook account. It's just as secure, and no password to remember!

Not a Member? Sign Up Here.

Sign up for an account to comment, share your thoughts, and earn points to get great prizes.

Register on Diffuser.fm quickly by logging in with your Facebook account. It's just as secure, and no password to remember!