(Sketches For) My Sweetheart The Drunk Was To Be Released Posthumously By Jeff Buckley's Mother In 1998, One Year After The Drowning Accident That Ended His Life.
Jeff Buckley’s drowning in 1997 in Memphis was a harrowing tragedy. We lost a great human being and we were deprived of a gifted performer whose career was just starting in earnest. At the time of his passing, Jeff was about to begin working with his band on a set of songs he had actually recorded once in Manhattan (with Television’s Tom Verlaine) and scrapped. He referred to those songs as “My Sweetheart The Drunk”, and he defined the album as “a guidebook for losers in love”.
Upon his passing, Jeff’s mother supervised a two-disc release made up of the songs Jeff had scrapped on the first disc, and the songs he had left behind as 4-track demos on the second CD. This double album became known as “(Sketches For) My Sweetheart The Drunk”, and it was a moving reminder of Buckley’s talent and determination to create a legacy as enduring as that of his brilliant (yet troubled) father Tim.
The songs he had recorded with Verlaine and scrapped only make it patent how much he strove for perfection – there was nothing wrong with them. Jeff was aiming to create a work which showcased him and his band as the close-knit performing unit they had become. And that was more than fulfilled by each of the ten songs that were featured.
“The Sky Is A Landfill” (a song in which he comes to terms with his father’s addictions) opens the album in an assertive way, and Jeff closes it almost single-handedly 50 minutes later with “You And I”, the nearest he has ever come to an acapella number. Generally, the songs stand as a more muscular version of the goth/folk sound that had been so captivating the first time around.
“Nightmares By The Sea” is a definitive highlight, and it was covered respectfully (but not brilliantly) by Katatonia later on. With its tale of lovers returning from the hereinafter to doom the existences of those still alive, the song is a clear tribute to Edgar A. Poe, an artist Jeff was very keen on. (He actually contributed a reading of “Ulalume” to an album produced and issued by Hal Willner in 1997, “Closed On Account of Rabies”.) Continue reading →
Read the first part of the review here. It mostly revolves around “Hallelujah” and “Last Goodbye”.
Any person who has to analyze “Grace” will necessarily have to split the review in (at least) two parts, since both “Last Goodbye” and “Hallelujah” deserve a major treatment. As a matter of fact, a Guardian critic even stated that “Hallelujah” was positioning itself as the most discussed song ever in the history of music. Looks like I made an (involuntary) contribution in part 1 of the review.
But there are other things going on in Buckley’s debut, and while the two classics elevate the album the disc would fall after heightening pretty quickly if it weren’t for some songs that are found on the second side. The few songs I don’t think that much of are all segregated on the first side, after “Last Goodbye”.
The second side is far more cogent, as it has “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”, “Corpus Christi Carol”, “Dream Brother” and “Eternal Life”. “Lover You Should’ve Come Over” in particular is revered by fans, and a poll I came across recently did amaze me because it was voted the second best song on the album after a knock-out tournament that saw “Last Goodbye” dropped from the running order after the second bout. The song is easy to like, with its backing vocals that match the excellence of the lead. Along with “Mojo Pin” and “Dream Brother” it is the best exponent of the dream-like mood the disc creates. That mood is difficult to define, actually. You listen to these songs and your head sort of goes up in the clouds, but at the same time you couldn’t keep a foot more firmly planted on reality. It is the strangest ethereal sensation I have ever felt, and I think the appeal of Jeff’s music lies there – in some place between what is here and what lies somewhere else.
And what we have here and what lies beyond this life is the theme par excellence of the disc, of course. “Corpus Christi Carol” is one of the clearest examples, with Jeff singing the Middle English Rhyme about a falcon who takes the loved one of a singer away. The singer goes after the falcon, and then he arrives at a chamber in which his beloved lies next to a bleeding knight and a tomb with Christ’s body in it. It is hard not to notice that the Carol has seven stanzas (like the Deadly Sins), and that Christ name is used in the final one only. Continue reading →
"Grace" (Jeff Buckley's Debut Album) Came Out In 1994. While The Original Reception Was Tepid At Best, It Would Eventually Sell Over 2 Million Copies Worldwide.
“Grace” was to be Jeff Buckley’s one and only “proper” album. It was not that successful when it first came out (1994), but the early demise of Jeff brought a lot of notoriety to it – a notoriety that it actually deserved the first time around. The music is quite hard to classify, and that might have been the reason why the buying public was not that keen on it when it was released. The only was to describe Buckley’s music is by making a multiple reference, with the gentleman that defined his music as “folk/pop-rock with a slight Goth touch” coming near the mark. If that label is a bit hard to get around even today, imagine what it must have been like in the mid-90s when genres like Grunge were the order of the day. Jeff was clearly ahead of the curve.
The first track is not really a great song, but it is a great way to start the album with its alternation between dreams (as represented by the lulling verses) and reality (as portrayed in the increasingly-loud choruses). The disc on the whole has an incredibly oneiric quality, and that is why such a song works perfectly as an album opener. The song is left to interpretation, with Buckley himself having explicitly linked it to heroin at least once.
The album itself does not hit a high note until “Last Goodbye” comes around (track number 3). I have already talked about the song in the general introduction, and there is nothing to add except maybe saying that it captures the humanity of Jeff’s voice like nothing else. The song gained a lot of notoriety upon being used in Cameron Crowe’s film “Vanilla Sky”, too. I don’t know how many of you are aware that “Vanilla Sky” is actually a remake of a Spanish film named “Abre Los Ojos” – the Spanish version gets the nod when it comes to storytelling, but Crowe’s version (as you would imagine) is unbeatable musically. Continue reading →
Jeff Buckley is one of the modern legends of music. Bestowed with one of the most expressive voices in history, he drowned in 1997 after having released only one studio album (“Grace”, 1994). He was 30 years of age. A set of demo recordings named “(Sketches For) My Sweetheart The Drunk” was polished and issued shortly after his untimely death as a 2 CD set, which also included an album he had recorded with Tom Verlaine and decided to scrap. As it always happens in these cases, posthumous success exceeded all the critical (and commercial) accolades he had reaped during his short life.
“How can somebody be lauded as a legend when he only released one ‘true’ album?”, I hear some say as I make the rounds. I can make no other reply than handing them a copy of “Grace” and pointing at two songs in particular: “Last Goodbye” and “Hallelujah”. I know I am not exaggerating when I say that these two are the songs of the decade. “Last Goodbye” showcases Buckley’s cannonades of sonority and expressivity as barriers that seem unsurpassable are conquered one after the other, culminating in the explosive delivery after the orchestrated break.
“Hallelujah”, on the other hand, is an emotional paradox – a song that can be as uplifting as it can be disheartening. It all depends on the circumstances in which you are playing it. It was arguably Jeff’s highest (posthumous) commercial point, and one of the first “true” digital music smash hits in history. Continue reading →