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XO (33⅓ #63)

3.29  ·  Rating Details ·  228 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
Many albums could be cited to support the claim that great suffering yields great art. Elliott Smith's "XO" should not be one of them. Smith's 1998 major label debut defies the "tortured singer-songwriter" stereotype, and takes up this defiance as a central theme. At a time when Smith was being groomed for a particular (and particularly condescending) brand of stardom, he ...more
Paperback, 124 pages
Published April 1st 2009 by Continuum (first published March 15th 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 455)
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Apr 18, 2013 Mariel rated it liked it
Recommends it for: I'm never gonna know you now but I'm gonna love you anyhow
Recommended to Mariel by: deaf dumb and done
I think no one ever lives up to their potential, and that's not a negative thing, though it sounds like that in my songs. I mean, it does burn me out sometimes. But it's impossible to live up to your potential in this world because if you can, potential itself is not worth very much. People are infinitely more capable than what they end up showing.
- Elliott Smith

"In other words..." Mathhew Lemay begins to explain what Smith had meant by saying the above.

Before I decided that yes I would go ahe
Sam Quixote
Jan 28, 2014 Sam Quixote rated it it was ok
Elliott Smith was a musician and songwriter everyone who loves music should listen to. If you’ve never heard his music before, rather than recommend entire albums, have a listen to the following songs: “Miss Misery”, “Say Yes”, “I Figured You Out”, “Needle in the Hay”, “Between the Bars” and “Angeles” – incredible, right? And if you’re already familiar with his music, you’ll know how unique he was as a talent. Unfortunately Smith killed himself in 2003 at the age of 34 after a lifetime of depres ...more
Meghan Krogh
Sep 08, 2016 Meghan Krogh rated it it was amazing
Shelves: xy, music
I've probably listened to XO about 20 times over the past two days, now, and while I enjoyed listening to this album in college—primarily as background noise—this close listen to the album alongside LeMay's insightful commentary and musical insight have really elevated the entire work in my estimation.
John Treanor
Sep 02, 2012 John Treanor rated it did not like it
I cannot read this shit. Reads like a college essay, as a couple of other reviewers noted. Totally bloodless and dry. Was looking forward to some insight and stories behind the recording of a great album, not an analysis of the lyrics. I've loved the other 33 1/3 books, but this one's a dud.
Annie Tucker
Nov 24, 2012 Annie Tucker rated it did not like it
I was a huge fan of Elliott Smith in college, and as a friend has newly discovered him I am experiencing a revival. I read this on the plane ride back from Thanksgiving. I'm giving it a huge fail because you can tell that LeMay is not a fan. He respects Elliott's music maybe but he doesn't seem to like it that much, or like or care about Elliott as a person... One of his whole arguments is that the cultural narrative surrounding Smith was discrediting Smith's hard work--LeMay argues he wasn't a ...more
Aug 08, 2016 Aaron rated it it was ok
Shelves: music
I like the idea of this book existing more than I like the book itself.

It's ambitious but ultimately a little silly to separate major swaths of Smith's internal life from his life as a musician. LeMay didn't convince me that Smith's public persona as a "sad sack" was immaterial to his output as an artist, although I would have loved for him to explore deeper the idea that Smith was prone to exercising his craft through more iterations of the emotional spectrum than just one (ballad : detached i
Dusty Henry
Jun 23, 2016 Dusty Henry rated it liked it
A lot of this book has the disadvantage of being compared to the definitive Elliott Smith biography Torment Saint. They're definitely two different approaches to Smith and his work, but some of the research in TS negates some of the narrative posed in this 33 1/3. But this book come out a few years prior, so easy to give Matthew LeMay the benefit of the doubt and appropriate context.

I appreciate the angle he tried to take with this: demystifying the idea of Elliott as a sad-sap singer-songwriter
Audrey Marquardt
Jan 03, 2016 Audrey Marquardt rated it it was ok
I think I liked the idea of this more than the actual book. A 2.5 I'm rounding down.
To break it down...
1. There were some typos and lyrics incorrectly transcribed; I wish there was better editing.
2. The analysis-per-song was really insightful, and I appreciated the effort to find earlier versions of lyrics, should any exist. I wish more was written about the songs (some sections were less than two pages), since the book is meant to analyze the album.
3. The choice to focus on Elliott Smith's conf
Charlie Cottrell
Jul 24, 2013 Charlie Cottrell rated it really liked it
A very academic examination not just of the album, but of the way we construct myths about our favorite musicians. Elliott Smith always got pegged as a sad sack, with folks pointing to his (often morose or depressing) songs as proof. The author makes an effort to examine how and why that myth was constructed, and takes a good crack at breaking the myth down and showing how strangely inaccurate it was.
Aaron Garrido
Mar 01, 2012 Aaron Garrido rated it it was amazing
While it may have read densely at times, the book presents an often ignored side of Smith as in-control, empathic, and a master of trial and error. It makes for a great break from the simplistic "Smith was a sad addict who killed himself and left clues in his music" narratives.
Nov 05, 2013 Brad rated it really liked it
Three-and-a-half stars. Some truly remarkable moments...and had there been more of them, it would've been a four star book. I most enjoyed the sometimes thick but wholly rewarding Part 2, much thanks to the section before the author starts his song-by-song commentary. Time and time again, critics and writers cast Smith as a living embodiment of sadness whose songs were purely confessional, and saying "understand the man's personal life and understand his music." Then, when Smith moved toward a w ...more
Sep 07, 2014 Rhea rated it liked it
The tone of this 33 1/3 book is typical to Pitchfork - over-exultant, trying hard not to be gossipy but totally being gossipy, etc. Probably because it was written by a 24 year old dude who writes for Pitchfork. So, as soon as I could get over the overall tone of the book, I really enjoyed it. The quotes from Larry Crane and Elliott Smith himself were really illuminating. It was so surprising to make the connection that Waltz #2 is about his mom, and Everybody Cares Everybody Understands is abou ...more
Aug 20, 2011 Larry rated it it was ok
As evinced by yesterday's review of the Notorious Byrd Bros. I can totally appreciate a 33 1/3 book that gives a song by song analysis, even of a record I was unfamiliar with. But the Byrd's guy wrote about the recording of the songs and their feeling. This guy wants to dissect the songs esp. lyrically which I have no interest in. The whole book is way too academic. Many "in this section I hope to show..." skipped to the second portion where he analysis Smith's instant ascension to fame... so fa ...more
Jun 05, 2012 Peter rated it liked it
Moderately interesting discussion of Elliott Smith's great album, my favorite of his. I've always thought of rock songs as being all but finished by the time they're performed in public or recorded as studio demos, but LeMay intriguingly shows how much Smith's lyrics evolved over time and developed into the final album versions. However, while LeMay also tries to discuss, in the second section, the disconnect between Smith's generally accepted public image (drug-addled depressed folkie) and his ...more
Gabe Durham
May 15, 2013 Gabe Durham rated it liked it

After a front half of deliberate lyrical analysis that leans pretty hard on alternate live versions, side 2 of this book heats up in a big way as LeMay uses Smith as an opportunity to deconstruct the "tortured genius thrust into the spotlight" myth. It's a smart thesis and well-executed.

I get that part 1 is all about trying to prove that Smith worked hard on his craft, but I didn't need that laid out for me.

Some of that academic-y language seeps in at times. Early on, LeMay stiffly outlines what
Niklas Pivic
Dec 01, 2014 Niklas Pivic rated it liked it
A lot about the words, very little about the music. Still, there's quite some digging done re. the words and different versions of the lyrics.
XO was the first Elliott Smith album I bought (and consequently fell in love with). Since he died, I've gone through periods where I couldn't really listen to his music. I liked reading this to just think about the songs and really appreciate them for what they are. I also liked the author's exploration of Elliott's public persona and how this album kind of contradicts that. But yes, it did feel a bit term paper-y at times. I kinda skipped over the pages that quote Barthes.
Mar 14, 2012 Misha rated it really liked it
An interesting take on the myths that surrounded Elliott Smith's life and work that consequently eclipsed his work ethic and talent.

"It is the urge to reduce his life into a cartoonish narrative, then read that narrative back into the music, that threatens to bleed the color, life, and complexity from an amazing body of work."
May 21, 2009 Nathan rated it it was ok
Shelves: 33-1-3-series
This was one of the books in the series that I was really excited to get my hands on, but after reading it I felt a little let down. While I appreciate the debunking of some mythology, it also seems that there was little else in content other than this, which rendered the book rather dull.
Aug 20, 2009 Aaron rated it liked it
Too much time spent talking about the demos of these songs and especially the editing process of the lyrics, and not enough time on the recording process and speculating about Smith's suicide.
Sep 03, 2010 Jeremy rated it it was ok
Ok, basically this guy wasn't even a fan of Elliott until well after his death, so who gives a fuck what he thinks about Elliott's music. Not a fan as in he did not like his music. Whatever!
Nov 10, 2009 Helen rated it really liked it
Definitely had to read this with a huge grain of salt, but it got across some important points regarding actual history and facts I never knew.
Jeremy Joseph
Feb 23, 2011 Jeremy Joseph rated it it was ok
Made me remember how good these songs are... but that's about it.
The writing is very tedious and seems forced. Nothing new or exciting really.
Pam Robbins
Jul 18, 2012 Pam Robbins rated it it was amazing
Wonderul read in the detective genre. Jeffrey Denver always delivers with believable characters, Internet plots and entertaining writing,
John P
Oct 10, 2013 John P rated it it was amazing
I think this is one of Deaver's best: A twisting turning suspense novel showing Deaver's skills as a lyricist.
Sean Kwon
Feb 02, 2013 Sean Kwon rated it it was ok
Better than expected, not as good as I wanted it to be. Interesting discussion on myth-making.
May 18, 2013 Matt rated it liked it
Shelves: music
Not my favorite 33 1/3, but light and easy to read.
Sep 21, 2009 Zachary rated it liked it
Kind of read like it was a college term paper.
Dec 24, 2010 Meg rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2010
Pretentious and poorly written.
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Meh... 1 2 Feb 25, 2013 11:54PM  
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