Tuesday, January 1, 2008

No. 303: Grace

Band: Jeff Buckley
Album: Grace
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: There are and were few rock and roll singers with the ability of Jeff Buckley. His voice has been compared to that of an angel's with little irony attached and I can't say I totally disagree. The son of songwriter Tim Buckley (though the two only met a few times, as Tim Buckley died when Jeff was all of nine), Buckley's songs with Gary Lucas remain some of the most heartfelt love songs ever written.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's hard to classify this record. It's sometimes uneven and is the type of record you may not love if you're not in the right move.
Best song: "The Real Slim Shady" is problematic, but decidedly catchy.
Worst song: "The Way I Am" is classic narcissism nonsense.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

There was a period in my life where this album was among my favorites and I've lashed back against it in recent years. I sold my copy on eBay and would tell anyone who'd listen about how it's just melodramatic nonsense. The lack of a unifying musical theme really annoyed me.

On listening to the album again, hating "Grace" is foolish. Almost all music is melodramatic, as one can't get conflict out of understatement. The differing sounds on the record work for Buckley's nimble voice and I can appreciate his ability to work with different sounds. Listening this week has reminded me why I love that album.


I was introduced to "Grace" by one of the only friends I had in high school whose musical taste I truly respected, Ali. Ali was a grade ahead of me and was my co-music director at my high school radio station. In addition to "Grace," she introduced me to Elliott Smith and helped nurture my love of bands like Yo La Tengo. She swore by "Grace" and fancied Buckley as one of her favorite artists.

After getting the album, I saw what she was talking about.


When "Grace" was reissued in 2004, the album gained some level of re-recognition. In its review, Pitchfork explained Buckley's place in music:

He really wasn't built for the strand of rock music borne of rebellion or release; he was a songbird, like the kind that used to receive roses and blown kisses from the debutantes in the balcony after performances.

I don't know that I could disagree with this. Buckley's chanteuse style is not of rock and roll, though he certainly could rock out. The title track's swing and "So Real's" breakdown both show Buckley's vocal ability in the genre. Buckley's version of Nina Simone's "Lilac Wine" shows his ability to work within a quiet dynamic while "Lover, You Should've Come Over" has gospel-like qualities.

The album is strange in that it makes people fall into hyperbole. It's hardly the stereotype of a record that Pitchfork would give 9.0/10 to, but that's exactly what Pitchfork did. The reviewer from Drownedinsound.com went even further, giving it a 10/10:

This is the only proper studio album that Jeff Buckley completed in his lifetime but listening to it now makes me feel like I’ve just listened to three or four albums in one sitting, such is the depth and range of this album. From the opening whiskery drum intro of ‘Mojo Pin’ to the last reverberant chord of ‘Dream Brother’, you’re subjected to an incredible journey that seamlessly straddles a devastating range of emotions and styles.

Hyperbolic? Um, yes. But that's the type of feelings this albums evokes in people, for better or worse.


At the risk of sounding like some sleazy greasy disgusting old dude, I would give this advice to any young high school boys out there: Buy this album. Find a high school girl who is a little punk rock, but still attractive. Mention to her that you like this album. Burn her a mix CD with "So Real" on it. Tell her that "Grace" is one of your favorite albums. Tell her that "So Real" reminds you of her.

You can thank me later.


kellydwyer said...

I actually followed through on your advice, a decade ago. I think I've bought this album more than any other besides Steely Dan's "Aja," but I haven't bought a new copy since 1998.

Got a chance to see Jeff way the hell back in 1995. Was a huge fan all through high school but rarely listen to him much anymore. He's sort of taken on a Zeppelin-esque status for me, quite cool when you're 14, but I don't need him as much now.

taotechuck said...

Uh, hey... I think you've got the wrong songs for best and worst, unless you're being sarcastic or something.

I just ran across your site, and I'm really enjoying it. Will add a link to you from my site, Pratt Songs, where I review CDs that are available from the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore.

(Oh, and I just beat up on Springsteen's Born to Run, so you might want to read that one.)