The key test of whether or not a ‘stripped back’ song is any good is – weirdly enough – whether or not it sounds like it’s not stripped back. In other words, does it draw you enough to sound like a fully fledged song, rather than just a bloke and a guitar?
The difference – where the song is won or lost – usually lies in the melody (as it usually does). Is the melody enough to simply be ‘nice’ and ‘relaxed’, or good enough to shine through its low key platform? That’s the difference between, for example, most of Jeff Beck’s work and his cover of Hallelujah, or most of Coldplay’s work and their acoustic cover of their own song Yellow.
Smith seems to have followed that pattern by recording a series of perfectly nice songs which are lacking in melody on his 1997 album Either/Or. This then only increases how good Say Yes sounds, coming at the end of the album. I wouldn’t exactly call it a diamond in the rough, but nonetheless it shines brighter than a diamond amongst diamonds. It sounds better because it is both the track with the least instruments and the one which sounds the most powerful. It’s testament to the power of both the acoustic guitar and voice as a combination and Smith personally that this song sounds so powerful and attractive that it sounds more powerful than a million other songs employing all sorts of overdrive and synths.