7.11.2008

Christopher O'Riley: Home to Oblivion - An Elliott Smith Tribute

Yikes. It's a solo piano interpretation of Elliott Smith's music by the same guy who did two albums worth of piano versions of Radiohead songs. Unlike Radiohead, though, whose strength comes as much from their instruments as Thom Yorke's voice, Elliott Smith's greatness is defined almost entirely by his lyrics and singing. It's a tough job to capture, on a piano, the things that make Smith special.

Music: 2.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
I made a playlist where I listened to O'Riley's version of a song first, then listened to Smith's version immediately afterward. Without fail, I zoned out during the O'Riley tracks, then my attention would snap back as soon as Smith started singing. It's never good when an album does little more than fade into the background.

The arrangements and performances lie somewhere between a piano bar and a concert hall; fortunately, they lean towards the latter. It's obvious that O'Riley cares about Smith's music, because his performances are filled with layered richness and subtle nuances, but there's not a single moment that makes me say, "Wow, I understand Smith's music on a new level." Sadly, there's not even anything here that makes me say, "Wow, I sure am glad I listened to this album."

(As an aside for you Baltimore folks, this is currently classified in the EPFL's catalog under "Smith," not "O'Riley.")

Packaging: 3.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
I don't understand the significance of the cover art, but it's a nice design. The gem here is O'Riley's liner notes. If I hadn't read his story behind the album, I would've dismissed this album much more completely than I did. It's a shame, though, that words had to speak where the music didn't.

Listen if you like: Solo piano music. There's enough substance to O'Riley's performances that the album could appeal to fans of guys like Daniel Barenboim, but the music is accessible enough for folks who love players like Richard Clayderman. Unfortunately, I don't think there's much here for the typical Elliott Smith fan.

If it were food, it'd be: Sometimes when you make a gourmet version of something simple and common (like beer), it's delicious. But sometimes, like with mac & cheese, refinement and sophistication strip away the food's most special characteristics. Home to Oblivion is gourmet mac & cheese, and there's not a beer in sight with which to wash it down.

2 comments:

The Mad Hatter said...

I hate this kind of hubris: that some slack-job with an instrument capitalizes on recent musical output to fill his degenerate coffers. For fuck's sake, get a job! You don't see me trying to peddle my awful guitar noodling as reinterpretation's of Ella's scat, so why does this short-order chef with a piano get one? And for the record, those Radiohead versions aren't so much awful as they prompt you to think: "Why the fuck am I not listening to Radiohead?" So what? He plays a piano for Radiohead songs with a piano. That's a far cry from the Easy Star All-Stars and their reggae version of OK Computer -- which I wish I could like except for the fact that I hate most reggae.

Anonymous said...

this album is amazing. the mad hatter is a tool.