Why did he hold back such quality
material? Perhaps he felt uncomfortable at the thought
of having to perform intensely raw and emotionally ravaged
pieces like ‘Going Nowhere’, ‘Whatever
(Folk Song in C)’ or ‘Seen How Things Are
Hard’. Perhaps he didn’t want to draw more
attention than was necessary to his various addictions,
and so left off ‘High Times’, ‘New
Monkey’, ‘Riot Coming’ and ‘First
Timer’. Perhaps he thought of these songs as works-in-progress
he could improve upon later. Whatever. As it stands,
there are songs here among his detritus that beat many
a songsmith’s most popular tunes into a corked
hat. Even the one cover version is a daring but well-executed
choice, Alex Chiltern’s ‘Thirteen’,
a song so great it can break your heart in less than
two minutes, no matter how many times you hear it. A
literal reading, to be sure, but best not try to improve
Sometimes dismissed (or praised) as ‘folk music
for junkies’, Smith was a kind of acoustic Kurt
Cobain – although even this comparison falls short
when one considers the more fulsome electric arrangements
on subsequent Smith albums, XO and Figure
8, nevermind Nirvana’s reworking of their
own grungy blasters on their Unplugged offering.
And the title? Apparently, it’s because Smith
liked walking around at night, which was when he got
his best ideas. If only he was still with us. For, great
as he was, at only 34 he surely had a lot more to offer.
Let’s hope he’s gone to a better place,
and raise a glass to an absent friend.
First published in Magill, July/August 2007.