Many albums could be cited to support the claim that great suffering yields great art. Elliott Smith's XO should not be one of them. Smith's 1998 major label debut defies the "tortured singer-songwriter" stereotype, and takes up this defiance as a central theme. At a time when Smith was being groomed for a particular (and particularly condescending) brand of stardom, he produced a record that eviscerated one of the central assumptions of singersongwriterdom: that pain is beautiful. XO insists that romanticizing personal tragedy can only leave you "deaf and dumb and done." And it backs up this claim with some of the most artful and intelligent music of its day. Matthew LeMay writes an original take on a widely beloved album, steering clear of the sensationalist suicide angles that have dogged most analysis of Elliott Smith's extraordinary work.