With most recording artists, the unveiling of an album made up of tracks rejected from other discs wouldn't be a particularly big deal—just another odds-and-sods record relevant to the devotee, but entirely dismissible by the casual fan. When it comes to Elliott Smith, though, things are different: There are no casual Smith fans. They're pretty much all fanatics, acolytes who've invested the lo-fi icon with the kind of awe reserved for The Beatles at the height of their creative powers. And just as Beatles fans had their revelatory Anthology, Smith fans will have New Moon.
Produced by Smith's old friend and sometime engineer Larry Crane, the package collects two discs' worth of demos, album outtakes, and out-of-print material recorded between 1994 and 1997, a period rightfully considered Smith's golden age. Spanning the recording of his chilling self-titled album and his melodic manifesto Either/Or, the tracks chronicle not just the most productive period in his life, but arguably the most disturbing—years marked by a nervous breakdown, a suicide attempt, and a terrifying stay in a psychiatric hospital.
While the underlying issues were certainly addressed in the contemporary releases, it's remarkable to hear the evidence of Smith's psychological deficiencies in the quality of New Moon's songs—throwaways to him—the least of which would have made a lesser artist beatific with pride. A handful of unexpected Smith classics emerge in "High Times," "Placeholder," "Fear City," "Going Nowhere," and "Georgia, Georgia," whose "what a plan, suicide" lyric should stir endless discussion about Smith's eventual demise. With its steeplechase guitar work and venomous vocal, "Almost Over" is as arresting a tune as Smith ever wrote. And the alternate versions of familiar material—such as a lovely acoustic take on "Miss Misery"—are all welcome inclusions.
It isn't a perfect release; it lacks the embellishments its author might have added. And detractors may take issue with the Smith estate's decision not to include "Abused," a standout from the same era that references an episode of parental abuse. But with 24 other reasons to smile, New Moon is thankfully, wonderfully full.