Sound: I don't know where to begin. This probably has to be one Elliott's most diverse albums. He sold more copies of "XO" than any other album of his, and for a reason. He definitely experimented with a broad range of song styles in this album. His guitar work is nothing short of brilliant. Song like "Independence Day" are just beautiful instrumentally. "Tomorrow Tomorrow" I think he plays about 3 or 4 guitars for that track, and is probably technically one of Elliot's most intricate songs on guitar, despite it not being his most popular track.
Then of course his big hit "Waltz #2"... I've heard this probably 2000 times now, still never get sick of it. Conversely the slightly less popular "Waltz #1" actually is one of my favourites of his. This song demonstrates some of that diversity I spoke of, and shows off his vocal range as well. Which by the way was tremendous. Oh well, Okay puts you in a very sombre relaxed mood when you listen to it, it's one of those songs where I think "damn, wish I came up with that"...
One song that really grew on me on this album over the years is "Amity". Comes out fast and strong, repeating the name Amity (named after a friend of Elliott's who toured with him in 1997)... It's very hard to start listening to this song and not finish it. The whole album is very, very addicting. The rest of the songs are all uniquely brilliant in their own way as well. "Baby Britain", actually isn't one of my favourite songs by his, but other fans seem to really love this song, so I can't even say anything bad about it. It may not be Elliott's most accessible album for a new listener to get into, but once you get it, you get it. This is one of the greatest albums of the nineties for sure. // 10
Lyrics: Lyrically... I mean... What can I say? I don't want to be too predictable, but the lyrics were right on par with all of his other albums, just fantastic. He seemed to be able to match up the issues he wrote about with the perfect melodies. "Oh Well, Okay" is a great example:
"I got pictures, I just don't see it anymore
Climbing hour upon hour through a total bore
With the one I keep, where it never fades
In the safety of a pitch-black mind
An airless cell
That blocks the day
Oh well, okay"
If you can imagine what that song sounds like before you hear it, you'd probably be fairly close.
As with all of Elliott's music, his lyrics can sometimes be hard to decipher in terms of what exactly he meant by them. He can be surprisingly literal, but also very metaphorical so knowing just what he means can be tricky sometimes. Most of the songs on this album seem to be written as a third person singing about himself. For example in "Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands":
"Everybody cares, everybody understands
Yes everybody cares about you
Yeah, and whether or not you want them to
It's a chemical embrace that kicks you in the head
To a pure synthetic sympathy that infuriates you totally
And a quiet lie that makes you want to scream and shout"
I notice also a slight improvement of his already great vocals from "Either/Or..." He utilises the "rasp" in his voice, like in "Waltz #2". Still, his peak vocals were in "From A Basement On A Hill" and "New Moon". I guess you could say, they got better as they went along, but were never less then great. His lyrics are a bit more polished and mature than in "Either/Or" I would say. // 10
Overall Impression: Comparably to the rest of his albums, it's right up there. I can't say it's the best, or the worst, because each Elliott album was great in it's own way. Commercially this album was most successful. If I were to name my top 50 favourite Elliott songs however, I don't think I'd end up taking a very large amount from this album compared to the rest of them, maybe excluding "Division Day". That doesn't mean the album lacks good songs, it's very consistent. Just personally, I've grown very fond of so many of his songs, it's very hard to narrow them down.
Most impressive songs: "Walts #1" and "#2", "Oh Well, Okay", "Pitseleh", "Amity", and "Bottle Up And Explode!". I love this album most for it's diversity. It makes for a very interesting play through #1 to #14. It showcases many styles of Elliott's music, lyrically and, melodically, and vocally.
There is nothing I really hate about this album at all. Of anything, maybe a couple songs sounded a bit closer to commercial than his previous, and even future songs. But don't take that sentence too seriously, the album is a bloody masterpiece. One of seven masterpieces. // 10