Between 1973 and 1977, Elliott Murphy released four albums on three major labels without ever selling enough records to make the charts. The majors probably kept signing him because he was an artist who looked like Brian Jones, wrote like Bob Dylan, and sang like Neil Young. That period of his career is summarized on the 1992 Razor & Tie compilation Diamonds by the Yard: A Career Retrospective, 1973-1977. After three strikes, the majors stopped calling, but Murphy kept writing and singing and performing; when he could manage it, he also kept recording for small labels including one called EMIS, which stands for Elliott Murphy Information Society, his fan club. Going Through Something: The Best of Elliott Murphy, 1978 Through 1991 chronicles the next decade-and-a-half, drawing from seven more albums and an EP. In his typically literary, fictionalized, and third-person liner notes, he describes himself as having been inadvertently thrown off "the Major's drunken boat" and having to swim to a distant shore (he eventually settled in France). Clearly, he has never given up the hope of commercial success: "For fifteen years he practiced his Grammy acceptance speech," he writes of himself, and there are also references in the songs, starting with "Going Through Something (Don't Know What It Is)," from 1986's Milwaukee, which speaks in its chorus of being "Caught in the grips of a rock & roll dream." In "It Feels Like" from Après le Déluge ("Recorded 1978 -- Released 1985"), he breaks off a poetic, triple-rhyming stream of thought with the declaration, "Ah, hell I can tell this won't sell." But however aware he is of his commercial predicament, Murphy stubbornly continues on, playing his catchy rock & roll tunes and singing his lyrics that reflect on downtown life in New York City in the '70s (with references to St. Marks Place and Max's Kansas City), on matters artistic and literary, and on relationships with women who, clearly, sometimes indulge him and at other times grow impatient. In "Out for the Killing" from Milwaukee, one laughs at his political knowledge and says, "You know even less about you and me." He may be inclined to agree, but it isn't from lack of attention. Murphy is something of a musical reporter, and his songs are dispatches from an emotional and political war zone in which things get mixed up, as they do in "The Fall of Saigon" from 1982's Murph the Surf. Finally, however, he makes the confusion work for him in the final song, "The Loser" from 1990's 12, in which he concludes philosophically, speaking to himself, "Try to accept that you'll keep searching." That's what Murphy did between 1978 and 1991, and the evidence is here, set to music.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann