Grace: So Surreal

buckley-jeff-4fe185b890a5cI have a pet peeve against saying “was” after someone dies.

Upon death, English relegates the passed into the past, damning them to irrelevance. It’s the first step to forgetting a person. And I just want to say fuck that noise. Otherwise 2016 has already pillaged the ever-living hell out of my music of library.

I would wake up to find pieces missing out of every shelf, aisles burnt, cases smashed, records smashed, piles of crap everywhere, windows shattered, registers thrown on the ground and my coffee shop just bloody ransacked. However I would still have a nice location.

Essentially a bankrupt Borders.

O.K. that’s just a Borders.

Thankfully, I’m not one to wear black in mourning for my music. Once again, fuck that noise, my musical heroes will never die.

Out of all these hypotheticals, though, the one album I would miss more than any other would be Grace by Jeff Buckley.

Welcome to the cult of Buckley

He’s a spectre that stays alive through the ever-wavering power of his voice– he sings anxious, nervous and sounds hyper-super-fucking-self-aware.

He sounds human.

Like how any dude would try to sing. Yeah, his voice cracks, but it’s out of anger or fear or sadness. Yeah, his guitar scratches and distorts, but it’s out of frustration, angst and anxiety. It’s refreshing to see that in a record rather than a chase for “the perfect sound.”

Yeah, nah, Jeff Buckley doesn’t give a damn about your overproduction and genre stereotypes — he plays the guitar.

He’s too melodic to be punk, too dynamic to be grunge (I kid, I kid, Eddie Vedder’s a great lead mumbler) and too surreal to be anything close to pop.

Instead, this guy sounds like he listened to Physical Graffiti and Songs of Love and Hate for 10 years straight before picking up a guitar. I mean, holy shit, does he wear influences on his sleeve for most of the album. And I’m not complainin’ about an alternative artist who likes Leonard Cohen — that’s some taste in some damn good poetry with just as good music.

However, I didn’t believe it for the first half of “Mojo Pin.” Silly me.

Because just as the thought entered my head, Buckley loosed a death march riff before screaming at the top of his lungs. He served me up some serious crow for doubting the connection.

“Oh the welts of your scorn, my love/ Give me more/ Send whips of opinion down my back/ Give me more.”

That is the sound of a young man bottled up by and then screaming at life in it’s absurdity and anxiety.

It speaks to this calm before a storm. The power behind  his voice just grows and grows and grows to a head before beaching and destroying any doubt in its path. “So Real” in particular kills me everytime.

“And I couldn’t wake from the nightmare that sucked me in/ And pulled me under.”

It’s a slow march towards the total and utter sonic explosions brought forth when someone doesn’t know who they love. A true highlight on the album and it works with the preceding track, “Lilac Wine” to turn a true corner from a wannabe to a gottabe.

As in, this guy’s gotta-be-the-next-best-thing.

He’s a strong, raw yet still surreal songwriter who plays a mean guitar.

He just continually switches gears, going from genre to genre to build up songs of gorgeous parts. Perhaps some are more beautiful than others (I’ll take “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” and “Last Goodbye” over “Corpus Christi Carol” and “Grace” on personal preference), but they all nonetheless imply Buckley has a good ear for excellent and sparse production.

And, seriously, rawness is what I look for in debut albums lest the songwriters are some bloody robots. He uses his tools when he needs them, not when they are available.

Shit, you could pick any song on this album as your favourite and I wouldn’t argue. He’s just that good.

“It” is a goddamn masterpiece

“It” is the best thing on this album.

“It” is a goddamn masterpiece in music.

“It” elevates this album from “solid debut album” to a goddamn classic.

“It” finds us in a church, where our reverend, Leonard Cohen, sounds like a midnight minister in the middle of his sermon. He prays and pleads and even inspires in a most wonderfully dire and dour tone. But he only has one hour.

Then after the mass is over, this kid sneaks in.

Jeff Buckley starts plucking notes in the attic (with, because I’m a bleeding heart, candles and a single crazy amp) of the this big-fuckin’-cathedral and he’s playing and praying to whatever the hell he wants.

The Rev. Cohen hears the twangs of each note and returns to the main hall of the Cathedral.

“It” is what he hears.

Buckley doesn’t need no choir. He moans this song to an excruciating six minutes and fifty two seconds sauna of emotional outpour towards a higher force for a mortal favor (a love, a skill, etc.).

“It” is a Latin mass of one in a sauna

And to get “It” right they placed one microphone in front of Buckley’s mouth and another in the church’s main hall.

Buckley takes this chant of faith and turns it into an echoing cry of relationships, squeezed and tugged to their last drop of faith. This is a song of broken faith sung by a man broken by faith. Spacey ass gaps between notes, intense, a near-cracking timbre between each lyric, an almost stumbling sense of guitar, Buckley totally sounds defeated in more of a human way then I’ve ever heard on record.

Perhaps “It” is a love song between a man and his guitar or a man and his lover. Who the hell knows, but I love that first metaphor; this man is trying to rediscover how to play the goddamn guitar and he goddamn does.


Artists don’t die

It’s actually humanizing to think that Jeff Buckley listened to the same albums as I. Physical Graffiti, Nevermind and Songs of Love and Hate are some picks for a top three desert island albums list. It’s just not enough room for Grace.

Because it’s weird to think of who will claim influence from Jeff Buckley. Will he become a sort of modern alternative rock hero? An idol for the new kids on the block to look back and say “this dude knew how to play a guitar” or “this dude could warp a note.”

But most importantly “This dude never left the building.”

I mean, I tried to find a flaw in the album, and it honestly feels like I’m making shit up when I say “oh some tracks may not appeal” or “there are some weak tracks.” Whether someone can repeat listen “Corpus Christi Carol” is up to them. As an album, Grace goes from quirky, to human classic by albums end.

I can count 5 singles worth releasing, not including Hallelujah, while the rest works within the context of the album. They make the album a complete sum of its parts.

They grow it into something beautiful and surreal.

But that’s where I did find the only quibble. The album never quite transcends as a whole to become something divine. Ironic, no? But that’s OK. This album doesn’t need a perfect grade, if anything that makes it more alive, more intriguing and more human each time I listen.

Producer(s): Jeff Buckley and Andy Wallace

Track Listing:

  1. Mojo Pin
  2. Grace
  3. Last Goodbye (turns up the heat)
  4. Lilac Wine
  5. So Real (personal favourite)
  6. Hallelujah (peak of album)
  7. Lover, You Should’ve Come Over (Buckley’s tour de force)
  8. Corpus Christi Carol
  9. Eternal Life
  10. Dream Brother (spacey send-off)

All tracks written by Jeff Buckley except “So Real” (Jeff Buckley/Michael Tighe), “Hallelujah” (Leonard Cohen) & “Corpus Christi Carol” (Traditional/Benjamin Britten)

2 thoughts on “Grace: So Surreal

  1. Holy shit, this is SUCH an accurate review. This one on wax is wild! “Dream Brother” is a great, more experimental finish, but “Corpus Christi Carol” always stuns me, and “Lilac Wine” is a definite favorite. Jeff Buckley is a wild musician.

    Also, really enjoy your review style, looking forward to reading more!


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About BenJamsToo

A young dude with an old soul from Portland, OR but currently teaching and writing in rural France. A lover of rock n roll since his mother first spun The Police’s “Roxanne,” he’s also dabbler in soul, funk, jazz, blues, electronic and hip-hop. Perhaps it’s easier to list what he doesn’t like; most gangster rap, country-western and modern metal disagrees with his stomach. Spends all day wondering what Ruban Nielson eats for breakfast, why Danger Mouse hasn't made a through and through GOOD record since St. Elsewhere, if Kamasi Washington is the Kanye West of jazz and just what the hell people hear in mumble rap. Between those things he writes for Atwood and his own blog, Come here for the nice clean thoughts; go there for the ramblings of an insane man.