Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is Jeff Buckley's ‘Grace’
“I don’t really need to be remembered. I hope the music is remembered”. With one brief answer to a question about legacy Jeff Buckley pinpointed one of the most poignantly tragic characteristics that are all too often found in the world of art and music. The feeling of loss when an artist dies is profound, not because we had a tangible relationship with the artist but because through their art we shared something meaningful together. This feeling is compounded when an artist dies young. Nowhere is this more evident than in the myth surrounding the 27 Club. The age at which these musicians died is but an arbitrary means of categorization to help us make sense of such tragic loss of life. The sad fact is that the thing that binds these musicians together is not their age, but the fact that they will never have the chance to even scratch the surface of their true potential, and we will never get to hear it.
If not for its age clause, Jeff Buckley (who drowned tragically aged 30) would be included in such a group of unfulfilled creative geniuses.
With the exception of a great number of posthumous releases comprising mainly live performances and demos, 1993’s ‘Grace’ remains Jeff Buckley’s sole contribution to the world of official record releases. It is truly a triumph of raw creative expression, while also demonstrating such perfect musical composition that it is hard to consider Buckley anything other than a genius. Many of the tracks gently build up to dizzying heights of haunting falsetto while the musical dynamic descends into a chaotic fury. Yet somehow, even with such passionate disregard for sonic boundaries, the integrity of the compositions remains intact.
Mojo Pin begins like many other tracks on the record. Almost from a distance you can hear Buckley’s faint ooooo’s introducing his guitar. What begins as a hypnotic account of Buckley’s thoughts soon begins to break under the emotional weight of the song. Each verse and chorus builds on this tension until it erupts into a vocal journey of startling heights. There is such fearlessness here. He is in such control of his range that he can soar to towering decibel levels, and bring it back down to a gentle whisper without even once compromising on a single note or cue.
Having played in many diverse bands in the past, it is quite clear that Buckley’s virtuosity on guitar cannot be called into question either. There is nothing superfluous in his playing, with each note being required for the desired effect. The same must be said of his vocals. While at times it seems as though he may lose control of his emotions at the expense of musical craftsmanship, the results always remain flawless.
It is difficult to think of many artists in the same league as Jeff Buckley. The sheer depth of his musical expression sets him apart. The yearning in his music is at times even tough to listen to. Lover, You Should Have Come Over sees Buckley reflecting on a funeral and longing for his companion. “So I’ll wait for you, and I’ll burn. Oh will I ever see your sweet return, will I ever learn? Lover, you should’ve come over, cause it’s not too late”. Such raw feeling being expressed against the backdrop of funeral organ music, paired with lyrics as sensitive as “She is a tear that hangs inside my soul forever” makes for some evocative listening.
Elsewhere, songs like Last Goodbye and Eternal Life (the latter in particular) contain elements more typically found in Jeff’s rock contemporaries music. There is a bit more grit here with a very rock n’ roll riff anchoring Last Goodbye and a pummelling bassline in Eternal Life that would give any of the grunge heads at the time a run for their money. It is in these variations that we begin to understand Jeff’s artistic spirit and mercurial approach to his art. It is clear that there would be no “Grace II” had he had the chance to finalise his follow up.
It almost goes without saying that Jeff’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah has taken on a life of its own separate from the original. What a cover! Better than the original? That’s a question for the masses but there is no doubt of the weight Buckley’s version carries in the music world. His gentle spirit and angelic vocal qualities shine through this cover, as well as songs such as Lilac Wine and Corpus Christi Carol.
Jeff Buckley’s only official record is a masterpiece of music and should be remembered as such. It is just unfortunate that we cannot separate ‘Grace’ from the fact that he died so soon after it’s release. His creative path remains largely unexplored and tragic as this might be, 'Grace' offers us a complete work that will live on. This is something to be thankful for. He can rest easy knowing that neither he, nor his music will be forgotten anytime soon.