You read it here - album of the year

Review by Shane Danielsen - Sydney Morning Herald, October 1994

It's now October, late enough in 1994 to start using phrases like "album of the year" and not look too foolish doing it.

Come in, Jeff Buckley, your time is at hand.

Briefly, the facts are as follows: he is (as the intuitive reader might already have guessed) indeed the son of Tim Buckley, the troubled boho artist/addict who crafted a number of brilliant albums - among them Sefronia, Lorca, Goodbye and Hello - before his premature death; his son was then just six months old. This is his debut album, after an EP last year titled Live at Sin-e (on Big Cat). He also presents a compelling argument for the genetic inheritance of genius.

What impresses most, however - more than his lineage, even more than that divine voice - is his songwriting. Of the ten tracks here, all but three are his own compositions. Yet while the covers are an eclectic bunch - ranging from a hushed, reverent delivery of Benjamin Britten's Corpus Christi Carol (which test his range to the fullest), to a sublime reading of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, one of the great lyrics of contemporary pop music - Buckley's own songs suffer little by comparison.

Lover, You Should Have Come Over is a case in point. It begins with a Larkin-like description of a funeral in the rain, moves through expressions of longing and doubt and edges towards reconciliation before articulating, finally, the dilemma of its (very male) protagonist in a single, telling couplet: "I feel too young to hold on/But much too old to break free and run".

Grace is, like all the best rock music, a work of equal parts drama and exhileration, qualities best witnessed in the opening to the title track, where an elaborate guitar filigree crashes into a thunderous chord, then a swaggering, thrilling riff. And while the rest of the album is characterised by its extraordinary sensuality, So Real is something else again, simply one of the most intensely sexual songs I've ever heard.

Surrounded by a plethora of fashionable gestures, Buckley has wisely opted out of the discourse. Knowing that, at its best, music can not only approximate actual experience, but can actually supplement it, he revels in the notion as song-as-catharsis. The result sounds at times as mystical and disconnected as Zoso-period Led Zeppelin, at others as urgently, defiantly contemporary as, say, Pavement.

It's also an almost impossibly beautiful record. There is a sense of rightness to the arrangements unlike anything I've encountered since the Cowboy Junkies' Trinity Sessions: everything is in its place, nothing is overstated - yet somehow it never becomes merely tasteful.

Album of the year. Without question.

Site feedback:

Back to the review index