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Listening 25 years on — why ‘Grace’ is one of the greatest albums of all time

After all these years, Jeff Buckley’s first and only album stands the test of time, but what makes it so great?

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“Grace is what matters in anything — especially life, especially growth, tragedy, pain, love, death. That’s a quality that I admire very greatly” — Jeff Buckley

I can remember exactly where I was — both physically and emotionally — when I first heard Jeff Buckley’s only album ‘Grace’. In fact, whilst I play through it now, I hear the opening harmonics of “Mojo Pin” and I’m instantly transported back to my bedroom, all the lights off, crying on a mid-July evening.

I close my eyes.

The needle continues to glide across the record as somehow I already reach “Lilac Wine”, a song originally written by James Shelton. The record crackles slightly as Buckley changes key on “like my love” with a rising, perfect vocal scale. I get goosebumps.

The needle spins to silence, I climb out of bed and turn to the B side.

Chances are, you have heard at least one track from this album, and it is most likely Buckley’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ which plays out now. Whilst this has become a stand out track on the album due to the popularity of the original track, for me, the pinnacle of this album is the sheer genius of the lyrics on “Lover, You Should Have Come Over”, a track which exhibits Buckley’s intensely emotional lyricism as well as his powerful and dynamic vocal range.

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“It’s never over, my kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder”

This verse speaks directly to my soul. The desperation of pining over a lost lover is drawn out and bared on this track, Buckley is right when he tells us “it’s never over”, the agony of lost love stays with you and Buckley makes no claim that it gets any better.

This verse speaks directly to my soul. The desperation of pining over a lost lover is drawn out and bared on this track, Buckley is right when he tells us “it’s never over”, the agony of lost love stays with you and Buckley makes no claim that it gets any better.

Buckley’s raw and emotive lyrics are further showcased throughout the incredibly endearing “So Real”. “So Real” takes us on an endearing journey of heartache and love. Buckley begs to spend the night just on his beloved’s couch at the beginning of the track before concluding with the simplistic, yet powerful and relatable line “I love you, but I’m afraid to love you, I’m afraid” after a heavy, grungy guitar solo, shearing this track down the centre, breaking the melancholy of heartache with the energy of love.

This album is not an album you find. I feel it is an album that finds you when you need it most. I recall the feelings of the July evening, my ears and heart being orchestrated by Buckley’s melodies. An album of heartache, of pining and of sheer desperation was the perfect soundtrack for this part of my life, and I believe, that, had I heard this at any other point in my life, I may not have listened to it again, or at least until the fates decided my time to hear this masterpiece had arrived.

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Perhaps part of the allure of this album all these years on is the mystery surrounding Buckley’s death. This is something I think about as he flows through the falsettos of “Corpus Christi Carol”. Buckley was pronounced missing by Memphis police after he was said to have swam out onto a river on his back, singing to the sky, and simply disappeared.

I skip back to re-listen to “Hallelujah”, I glazed over the first half of this album as I got lost in the emotions of my first experience of it. There’s something about Buckley’s delivery that sets this above any other rendition of Cohen’s classic track I’ve heard before. I find there is a conversationalist tone to Buckley’s deliverance, like he is directly addressing the listener with every word he sings, every note he hits, every cry of emotion.

Buckley’s body was found after a week-long search. As I reach this point, the energetic, riffy 9th track of Grace plays out; “Eternal Life”. I can’t help but feel a pang of disappointment in knowing this album is just 2-and-a-half-tracks from its conclusion and just 2-a-half-tracks from the conclusion of his entire catalogue. Buckley has, for sure, achieved eternal life through his music. This album is truly timeless. There is not a lot else I can say than that. I will not try and tell you how you should feel about this album because I feel it would mean something different to anyone who listened to it, but confident in saying that this album will pull at your emotions in one way or another.

“Dream Brother” is playing out, I find this track slightly anomalous on the album, a dream-pop/grunge ballad amongst a somewhat soulful-blues album, yet the genius of Buckley strikes again because it still fits in, it still flows into the Soundgarden-esque conclusion of the album, “Forget Her”.

This track speaks directly to my heart as Buckley serenades me at what is now, 2:16am.

“Don’t fool yourself, she was heartache from the moment that you met her”

“Forget Her” is a heart-wrenching ballad about the breakdown of a relationship, the feeling that the entire relationship, the entirety of that love, was just a waste of time, nothing more than a joke- “Oh my tears fall down as I tried to forget, the love was a joke from the day that we met”. You can hear the pain in the tuneful wailing of Buckley’s voice, like he is directly talking to the lover he lost.

“My heart is frozen still As I try to find the will to forget you somehow Cause I know you’re somewhere out there right now”

And with that, the album fades, suddenly, yet peacefully, much like Buckley did. The final moments, a searching cry for the one he loves. The perfect conclusion to the perfect album.

I found this album in a dark time of my life, I find energy and new life in screaming along to Buckley’s heartbreak. I feel at one with the musician. I feel at one with the music, I hope generations to come will hear his music and let it live on, I hope Buckley gains eternal life.

Image: Google Images

By El Tyler

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