Phoebe Bridgers is about to release a new album, ‘Punisher,’ and she hasn’t been very mysterious about the fact that the titled track is a song about Elliott Smith. ‘I wrote a song about how, if Elliott Smith were alive,’ she said to the New Yorker, ‘I probably wouldn’t have been the most fun person for him to talk to, I’m a superfan, and I know way too much about his music. So I wrote that as if I were the punisher.’
No mystery is left, you don’t have to do any homework with Phoebe, she gives you the answers even before you get the assignment – the song will be released at the same time than the album, on June 19th.
When I saw her perform with Ryan Adams at a KSCN Benefit Concert in 2014 – oops, a name she probably does not want to be associated with ever, ever again – I was far for expecting she would suddenly become one of the most acclaimed singer-songwriters of her generation. I saw her a couple of times after that, she sounded like one of these sad girls with a guitar singing with a timid (and nice) voice under a pale light, but I still did not expect the amount of exposure she is now receiving. Articles in the New Yorker, the Guardian, Rolling Stone, admirative reviews published by Pitchfork and NME, this definitively looks like an overwhelming amount of press for her, while the abundant comparisons to Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan in the press, have left me a bit pensive.
But now that she has conquered the world with her super indie group Boygenius and another album with Conor Oberst, ‘Better Oblivion Community Center’ – and I am not counting her first release produced by the infamous Ryan Adams at his Pax-Am Studios back in 2015 – she is preparing her second solo release, ’Punisher,’ with an almost perfect score from the press that has been able to preview the album.
The fact that she has a song about Elliott Smith should not come as a surprise, she has basically mentioned him every time she has been interviewed… Here, here, here, here, here and here,… I could fill the page with articles, while her stroll in the streets wearing a suit on a scooter for her Motion Sickness video is probably an homage to Elliott Smith’s video for Miss Misery… we get it, she loves Elliott Smith, and so do I…
So what about her ‘Punisher’ song? She is obviously stalking the same Silverlake streets, with a direct reference to the Snow White Cottages where Elliott lived for a while (‘And walk right by/The house where you lived with Snow White’), she pretends to go to the same bars (‘Hear so many stories of you at the bar’), and there’s even an obvious reference to one of Elliott’s famous songs, ‘Son of Sam’ (‘A copycat killer with a chemical cut‘), while the line ‘I love a good place to hide in plain sight’ echoes ‘some beautiful place to get lost’ (Elliott Smith’s ‘Let’s Get Lost’). There are probably other things… maybe ‘I swear I’m not angry, that’s just my face’ expresses the same sort of feeling than ‘You see me smiling you think it’s a frown turned upside down’? (‘St. Ides Heaven’) It’s just less imaginative.
Is Phoebe Bridgers trying too much to reconstruct this melancholy, this mal de Vivre, this aimless street wandering that she admires so much in Elliott’s songwriting? I bet she is very proud to have already been called Ms. Misery? Phoebe Bridgers may be the new prodigy, but to me, she is often one-note, one-emotion songwriter, wasn’t she able to recognize all these emotions in Elliott’s songs? Sadness is not his dominant color! I want to see her angry, but I don’t know if she can, she is all pastel colors whereas Elliott’s songs have contrasting colors with fire, passion, and deep hatred. That said, this is based on what I have heard so far, as I haven’t listened to the new album yet.
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