For an artist who inspired as intense devotion, and was as prolific, as Elliott Smith, it comes as some surprise that the Portland singer-songwriter’s archive – chock-full of unreleased songs, fascinating demos and illuminating alternate takes – hasn’t been excavated more thoroughly over the years.
Arriving nearly a decade after the posthumous compilation New Moon, Heaven Adores You is a much welcome addition to the Smith oeuvre. It’s the soundtrack to a 2015 documentary about Smith, collecting 20 live TV appearances, unfinished songs, unaltered album tracks and instrumental sketches. Don’t expect a seamlessly cohesive album: The only narrative thread here is that portions of all these tunes appeared in the film.
With early versions of songs that were outtakes themselves – see “Don’t Call Me Billy,” a predecessor to New Moon nugget “Fear City” – this collection is not for the uninitiated. But for those excited by the very existence of an early version of “Coast to Coast,” or by a Roman Candle-era instrumental named (by Smith himself) “Untitled Soft Song in F,” genuine revelations await. The full-band take on 1995’s “Christian Brothers” proves that even at his most pensive, Smith was often just a rhythm section away from piercing grunge. On the other hand, “Plainclothes Man” reduces Heatmiser’s backing track and is instead a solo-electric masterwork that portrays a frontman with his sights set on going solo.
Then there’s “True Love,” an intensely personal, oft-rewritten outtake from the last few years of Smith’s life that serves as the record’s most thrilling unearthing. Moments like these show why Elliott Smith – consummate lyricist, meticulous craftsman, and avid self-editor that he was – deserves an extensive archival treatment as much as a Cobain or a Dylan.