So here's a change in our alternate versions of Elliott Smith tracks that Kill Rock Stars is dropping in honor of what would have been Smith's 43rd birthday. You can read my take on the other two, "Alameda" and "Punch & Judy" where designated. What's the change? Well, our previous versions featured more instrumentation than on the album ("Punch and Judy" had a whooole different tempo), whereas this version of "Angeles" is more stripped down than on Either/Or or the Good Will Hunting Soundtrack. It sounds fresh out of Smith's guitar as he finalizes the track by saying: "that was called Angeles," implying that this was a demo for the Either/Or recording sessions. It appears to be just Smith and his guitar. No layering, no filter.
I seem to recall, at one point, reading an analysis of Smith's performance on the Oscars where his tune "Miss Misery" lost out to that bombastic Canadian Celine Dion and her EPIC "My Heart Will Go On" where the writer suggested that had Smith played "Angeles" he would have won. While I highly doubt that, the writer is correct in saying that the slow implosion of "Angeles" is one of the most riveting pieces of music you'll ever hear. As beautiful as "Miss Misery" is, it does contain a bit of Hollywood bombast, a sort of look-at-me sadness which never seemed to befit Smith who preferred being out of the light much more than being in it.
So, it's notable how optimistic this recording sounds. How fresh and almost naive, as if Smith had just thought about it on the way over to the studio. The guitar genuinely bristles and shimmers even at the minor notes. Smith's voice, unfettered by multiple harmonies emerges glorious and crisp. When it wavers during the sustained note at the end of the chorus, it's enough to make you want to jump into your speakers. This is the most humane of the alternate takes so far, it's the one that brings us the closest to the artist.