Jeff Buckley died at age thirty, cutting short what was promising to be a legendary career. I grew up aware of Buckley, never having listened to him but knowing he was someone definitively cool that I should get to know. I always assumed that everyone knew this, but talking to my parents about his album I realised the generation (or two) above us only know Jeff in terms of his father, Tim, who was a successful acoustic singer-songwriter. Despite his famous father, Jeff Buckley’s music speaks for itself. Before his untimely death he only released one studio album, Grace, which is this week’s album to listen to before you die.
One of the best things about Grace is its diversity; Buckley moves from swelling, electric Mojo Pin with its emotive screaming to the soft and delicate Lilac Wine with its barely-there vocals. This variety is undoubtedly so successful because before anything else, he had an incredible voice, which is distinctive without being same-y. Many people may have come across his version of Hallelujah before, which in my opinion is the only cover of that song that is almost as good as the original (sorry Alexandra Burke). I doubt there are many artists, however, who can claim to cover Leonard Cohen and Benjamin Britten in the same album. Another key element of this album is that he sounds like he’s enjoying singing it so much. On title track Grace, for example, his musical screaming is so enthusiastic, it’s easy to imagine him in a music-induced ecstasy. This leads to dramatic songs that demand to be heard just because they sound so full, and so listening to this album becomes less just listening, and more of a complete experience.
Throughout, his voice sounds thick with emotion and his lyrical prowess is impressive, especially on my personal favourite, Mojo Pin. As Buckley’s first (and unfortunately last) studio album, Grace is somewhat indecisive, with a mix of styles that suggests a new artist trying to find his place. However, this album is so full of suppressed anguish and other extremes that it feels like listening to an artist that has been around forever.