Editor's note: The Creedence Overview is going to be a weekly installment situation. Look for Bayou Country on Friday.
What would it sound like if you placed the greatest songwriter of the last twenty years in a workman-like grunge band? Heatmiser. Widely dismissed during their time, Heatmiser consisted of Neil Gust, Sam Coomes (Quasi), and Elliot Smith. It strikes me that in all the Smith related posthumous releasing, at least this record wasn't reissued. It's a fantastic record (sorta), and Smith's songs sit on the same level as his solo material.
The album starts off with two Smith numbers, the surprisingly confident rocker, "Get Lucky", pairs Smith's Beatles melodies with a loosely over driven guitar riff, lines are even traded with Gust, and punctuated with perfectly placed "whoahs". Here Smith and Heatmiser sound like an actual group, unlike the rest of his songs on this record, where it's more like Elliot Smith featuring Heatmiser. I'm not sure if that's because this is their breakup record, or if Smith's songwriting just doesn't really mesh with the band's sound. (This is the only Heatmiser record I've heard.)
"Plainclothes Man" starts out more in the classic Elliot Smith chiming acoustic guitar style, when the band slowly creeps in, and lends some tension to an already dark song. The one thing that has always impressed me about Elliot Smith is how easily he can put plain words in places where other songwriters would put metaphors. Here Smith plaintively sings that he "only needed alcohol". It's so plain and direct, yet is so clearly not pedestrian. His pain is there, and needs no explanation. Unlike subsequent misery hounds, like say, Linkin Park, who have to use the word pain, over and over again.
Gust is just as miserable as Smith, just not as charming. The balance of the record tilts toward him, and without Smith adding beauty to the straight bleakness, Heatmiser would be more like Bush with a little more credibility. Maybe I'm being too mean here, I said this was a fantastic record just a few paragraphs ago, and it kind of is. Gust isn't so bad, as much as he's just a real downer. He has some really good songs here, "Rest My Head Against The Wall" is a drunken stumble through a bad week, with loose and detuned acoustic guitars. When listened to by themselves, Gust's songs are impressive, confident in their misery. Together they seem to run into one another, until they're broken up by another Elliot Smith song.
If I weren't forced to compare Smith and Gust, I'd probably find Gust to be the frontman of a perfectly serviceable second tier grunge-era band. And I'm sure that "Low-Flying Jets" will be a highlight of the inevitable '90s Nuggets-styled boxed set (we'll call it Lint). But Gust sits there, distracting me from what would be a perfect little Elliot Smith ep. Like if Kurt Cobain shared half of the songs on Nevermind with Sponge. That's still too hateful, yet, I can't help it.