Elliott Smith’s ‘A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Free’ is concealed quite nicely within Smith’s oeuvre. Like most of his work, ‘Distorted Reality’ is pessimistic indie-pop delving into Smith’s addiction and depression. The final track on the posthumous release From A Basement On The Hill, the song was also the last single Smith released before passing in October 2003.
The lyrics poetically illustrate a depressive’s self-destructive attempts to “be free” of his disease, questioning whether his issues are because his “country don’t give a f*ck” or within his head, ultimately realising he will always be “between” and never happy or clean. Musically, ‘Distorted Reality’ has Smith’s characteristic piano/drum/bass/guitar and takes melodic inspiration from George Harrison as with his previous album, Figure 8.
Sadly, this song isn’t as popular as Smith’s other work, because it is fundamentally, at its core, hopeless. It is Smith’s final fade-out, the last message from a dependent to a world which “disappoint[‘s]” him, where all his interactions are with people wanting to use him and his talent selfishly. It is the hopeless last message of a depressive to a world that he doesn’t feel welcome or free in, and a realisation that he never will.