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.
“Eternal Life” also deals with life in the hereinafter, with Buckley denouncing racial hatred in the loudest cut of the disc. And the loss of a close friend who was actually still walking this Earth inspired the album’s closer, “Dream Brother.”
It is hard not to give this album a perfect rating. Jeff did never have a chance to top it, of course. But the album is unique in the sense that few debuts are this multifaceted. If we go by the belief that a debut disc only shows us a modicum of what an artist can do, then “Grace” was one of the most auspicious debuts in history. That the story was to be cut short should neither make us negate nor aggrandize its merits. Buckley once said that, to him, “Hallelujah” was about life and love. I think that the same can be said about the album on the whole. But it is not a celebratory album in any sense. Rather, it is an interrogatory disc. The best art is the one that makes you try and transcend the limits of imagined reality. “Grace” does it. We don’t know whether answers lie right here, or whether we are to find them above or below when the time comes. But the record gives you the certainty that someday, somehow, you are going to find them. And that is the truest grace in itself.