Elliott Smith's music was as comforting as it was depressing. There was a fine line, a delicate balance, to the world of light and its contrasting darkness which he really thrived on and Roman Candle was THE stripped down, bare essence of Smith's emotional roller-coaster. As his first real attempt outside of Heatmiser, these nine tracks proved to be a carousel for his naked thoughts, his poems and more-than-subtle hints that the pressure of success could be, and ultimately, would be more trying than we could ever fathom. This album laid down a lot of emo tones for musicians, songwriters and contemporary wordsmiths of present and in doing so, formed the foundation of how to be soft-spoken and genuine without coming off as too verbose. It was introverted but still, it was pure magic.
His music packed in a silent restlessness while keeping chords of discontent, tension and introspection at heart. Smith made you reflect on life and love. It was exceptional to hear his searing honesty and his decisive collection of heartbreaking stories. Nowadays, that feeling's rare but artists like Marcus Mumford, Grey Gordon, Geoff Rickly, Frank Turner, Johnny Rzeznik, Jay Malinowski, Koji and Evan Weiss all remind me of his body of work. The pain was most felt on the self-titled "Roman Candle" which became a much-needed outlet from the tension of Heatmiser. It was dissonant, full of hurt and like much of the album, jammed with screeching, squeaky guitars which came off jarring, scratchy and grainy but added a lot of substance to the home-made demo sound. It truly kept an inviting atmosphere and allowed you to live vicariously in his world. The strings felt raw, lo-fi and a masterpiece. The lyrics were human, making Smith flawed and real. The songs felt like art and not like an assembled product. That set the ball rolling for his music - stuff that were nothing more than confessionals. Sheer soul-searching confessionals. "Condor Ave." also touched on this point as it kept a faster tempo which no doubt lent influence to the likes of later works such as "Angeles" and "Miss Misery". Whether it be about substance abuse, death or the way the world worked, these mid-tempo to faster-paced tunes still swam neatly in his slow, melodic nature. These faster rhythms were not as often explored as I'd have liked, I admit, so when they came along, I lapped them up.
That's the kind of power he had. He never needed a consistent sound to move you. Smith wanted to be happy playing his music and also, satisfied with the messages. That was something that Roman Candle showed and it allowed much of his core to surface. This record made you realize that he'd get the best out of himself, musically, on his own, flying solo. "No Name #1" in its western, folky vibe and the oblivion-themed, dark aura of "No Name #3" gave way to much of his dynamic. They were diverse and made him stand out even more as a writer. Despondent and troubled a soul, but still one worthy of your time. He didn't ooze charisma and neither did this album but there was so much connective tissue to it. It gave a nonchalant confidence though that you knew would never make it through a Grammy or Oscar performance but one which could coyly light the fucking night up in a bar as a rock-star on stage next to a glass of whiskey.
Roman Candle was the first step to Elliott Smith finding his true voice and being the individual he wanted to be on the guitar. It was a definitve landmark that rippled down through generations for many acts in rock and roll - and their offspring genres. As someone who suffered severe depression, I actually had to take a break (years in fact) from listening to him because hearing Smith and more specifically, this album, juxtapose melancholy to subjects such as anger, alienation, loneliness and despair, really struck me hard. Thankfully, now I can indulge a bit more, but one thing didn't change - he really was remarkable and made huge statements. With shrouds of mysteries over his death still echoing today, it's clear how his worked touched many as music, art and so many other tributes still pour in. The music industry misses his shyness, indie-draw and well-crafted acoustics. When I think about how impactful this album was, all that comes to mind is -- heart and soul!!!