Had Elliott just made this one album, he'd still have stood out,
This review is from: Roman Candle (Audio CD)
When a young Elliott Smith made the nine songs (and a few more) which eventually turned into ROMAN CANDLE around 1993, he apparently had no intention of it becoming his first release as a solo singer-songwriter. However, probably feeling that his band Heatmiser enlimited his abilities to some degree, he had begun to experiment with other, more personal material, using his four-track recorder in the apartment of his then-girlfriend; and the result, the story goes, so impressed local label Cavity Search Records that they convinced Smith to have it officially released.
Listening to the album seventeen years later, it is still evident why Smith's first effort on his own stood out to said label, or would have done so to any other label in search of real talent. I'm too young to remember much of that era myself (being half a decade old when the album was released), but even so, it's quite obvious to me that ROMAN CANDLE came across as something different in its day, being arguably more demure in tone than much of what commercial music in the mid-1990's had to offer. As he would continue to do throughout the rest of his career, with ROMAN CANDLE Smith reached a level of emotional intimacy with his personal lyrics, sung through a soft but vulnerable voice which makes the impact all the more ineluctable.
Perhaps more so than Smith's later albums, ROMAN CANDLE appears to have been thoroughly "homemade." The minimalistic sound would also be present on his next, self-titled album, but still slightly more polished in its sound than this debut. This is possibly the most homogenuous quality on ROMAN CANDLE; when played in darkness, one could easily imagine that Smith may as well have played it live in your own living-room. Especially three tracks stand out to me; "Last Call," the instrumental "Kiwi Maddog 20/20" and the title track. Towards the end of the latter song, Smith sings, almost whisper-like, "Make him feel this pretty burn..." whereupon he rounds up with a fast, stunning number on his acoustic guitar, which never fails to leave me nearly blown away; so real, such nerve.
Smith was to reach perfection with his two next albums, both of which include numbers likely to make me cry every now and then. ROMAN CANDLE does not reach me quite that deep emotionally as a whole, but it is definitely one I'll return to for as long as I can imagine, a much-needed companion on gray days. I am certainly grateful that Elliott got to make several more albums than this one, but even if he had not, he'd still have stood out with ROMAN CANDLE.