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Album Review: Jeff Buckley - Grace (1 Viewer)

A review by Joel Cardwell

Jeff Buckley – Grace

1994

Jeff Buckley is one of those vastly overrated talents that one hears about from friends but that never really gets played in the outside world. A “cult figure” so to speak. It is unfair however to blame Buckley’s popularity on his death, he was much lauded, like Kurt Cobain, before he died. Though “Grace” was not a chart favourite at the time, 149th in the Billboard Top 200 was it’s highest placing, it has become a perennial favorite among the disaffected, alienated youth in the English-speaking world. Released in 1994, it has become an emblem for the now 20 and 30 somethings and indeed for their younger siblings. As I am the older sibling in my family, that all seems fairly old to me.

Buckley is supposed to move people with his “multi octave” voice and though I find such posturing is generally wasted on me, I could not help but be impressed by the title track “Grace”. I noticed the Robert Plant influence at once; this man does, like Plant, make “soul music”. The music is also obviously Zeppelin influenced, reeking of patchouli, somewhat. The music is also limited by the technical limitations that hampered many a musician in the 90s, gear is too expensive so we make do with cheap studios. This of course is a good thing to the punk-influenced Buckley fan, but the fake strings do grate.
The music is well thought out though, I was particularly impressed with “Last Goodbye”, a healthy appreciation of chord structure and melody would have really stood out in the context of 1994’s musical dullness. “So Real” is jazzy but with the added grunge aesthetic of quiet verses and loud choruses. “Lover, You Should Have Come Over” is a strong track with a real retro sound, though, disappointingly the tune lacks the melodicism of “Grace” or “Last Goodbye”.

The three covers are particularly impressive, Buckley using his range with well developed melodies by mature artists, “Hallelujah” (Leonard Cohen) is a classic example of a great singer reveling in a great melody and a fairly standard chord progression (wink). “Lilac Wine” is not a favourite song of mine, but Buckley has a good feel for it and makes it his own. More religious imagery is evoked in the Corpus Christi Carol, an interpretation of the sufferings of Christ still resonating with audiences 2000 years later (even when sung by a Godless heathen). This is really a showcase for Buckley’s extraordinary vocal talent, singing like a choirboy is no easy task, no matter how tight the trousers.

The thing that takes the “all time great” tag away from this album is really the last two tracks, attempts at Heavy Rock that really serve to show Buckley’s immaturity as an artist. This is a matter of taste, but these songs “Eternal Life” and Dream Brother” (Oh brother…) are incongruous to the rest of the album and lack the band to pull off the would-be Zeppelin tribute. Buckley would seem to be incapable of rock, however much he is influenced by it. Lyrically and musically, then, the album tails off, the promise shown by the earlier tracks killed by overblown would-be metal.

Buckley is held to be some kind of demi-god figure, and this may or may not be due to his death, however his album only shows promise and not the kind of fully fledged genius that the hype would have him portrayed as. To some extent this is admirable and understandable, and it is always brought upon by the monumental loss of death. It must be said that we can get some kind of perspective nine years on, when, unlike the critics of the time, we have the beneficial goggles of hindsight. One wonders about those who idolise Buckley, though. Jimmy Webb wrote of the average “civilian” being unaware of musical intricacies developed by the musician. Perhaps Grace is the stereotypical sensitive artistic type’s album of choice, as much as The Slim Shady LP is the Bad Boy TM’s perennial discman dweller? Grace is a flawed album, undeserving of its legendary status, yet it is a promising and ever to be unfulfilled debut from a very talented man.

6.5/10
 
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