“Bottle Up and Explode!” by Elliott Smith

100. Song No. 1,283: “Bottle Up and Explode!,” Elliott Smith
XO, 1998

I dunno, man: It’s probably not a great sign to find so many of my coping mechanisms staring back at me from Elliott Smith songs, but here we are alternately suppressing emotions and drinking them away. Which are definitely two malfunctions I have dedicated myself to perfecting like there’s some kind of award at the end of this totally advisable knack for all manners of avoidance.

What gets me about Elliott Smith is how jarringly and (much more so) how deftly he pairs these infernally catchy up-tempo melodies with the most crushingly heartbreaking lyrics, like someone who wants to talk about the damage they can’t shake but feel so resigned to it that the tragic irony or dark humor is just one more thing to matter-of-factly laugh off or shrug away until it’s overwhelmingly there.

Couple that with how often there are these inner and external forces playing at a double meaning and you’ve got entire worlds to explore in one song and they’re all bleak as fuck but couched in utterly compelling music that make the ride and its horrifying depth of feeling a lot easier to absorb. Because the full impact is worth the blow, either because you get some empathetic insight or necessary “Aha!” moment of self-realization from taking the plunge of trying on Elliott’s perspective for a song.

No one gets to the heart of the human condition quite like Elliott Smith did. And while it’s sobering to see elements (or entire characteristics) of yourself in one of his songs, there’s a lot of humanity and proof that at least no one goes through these things alone. Which is as comforting and as haunting and as familiar as any one of Elliott’s deservedly revered albums and their roadmaps through the dark underbelly of what it is to be alive when being alive is a lot of work.

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