Friday, November 14, 2014

Song of the Day: Jeff Buckley - Last Goodbye (1994)

Yesterday I wrote about how difficult it is for someone like Liz Phair to try and follow-up on a debut as acclaimed as Exile in Guyville was. So today, I thought it'd be interesting to look at someone who never fully experienced that problem, for better and worse. 

There weren't too many "Best of '94" lists you would have found Jeff Buckley's lone album, Grace, placing highly on at the time. It was listed #1 in Mojo, and made Top Ten in both Entertainment Weekly and Melody Maker, but it wasn't exactly a consensus "Great" album in its moment. Then Buckley died in 1997, drowning during a late night swim while he was still laboring over Grace's follow-up, and now we remember everything differently. 

A lot of artistic works become more heralded over time, and it's always fascinating to try and understand why, both in terms of why we like something better in retrospect, and why we might have liked it less at the time. 

Grace seems to exist completely devoid of context, which in itself is amazing. It doesn't feel a part of any scene, style, or era. Whenever you hit play on the album, it always feels wistfully old and wise, yet distinctly contemporary to whatever year it's being heard in. In that sense, it's an album that the world was almost destined to under-appreciate at first and (perhaps) over-appreciate in retrospect, specifically because it feels so alien to any given moment and so universal to being looked back upon. It's probably an album that would eventually be an agreed-upon masterpiece even if Buckley had lived and released nothing but shit for the rest of his life. That Sliding Doors timeline did not occur, but perhaps it only exacerbated a critical ascension that was already inevitable. 

Something I've always loved about the NBA is that it's the sport where I believe elite athleticism most frequently and spectacularly becomes a visual thing. Seeing someone slash through the lane, get into the air, and then change directions/poses/hands/strategies during hang-time is just breathtaking to watch. When I listen to Jeff Buckley, I get that same sort of hang-time with his voice. It's like he had this super-power to begin a note without having any idea where it was going, and just sort of whimsically glide it around to however he was emoting at the time. 

We often associate The Pixies--and then Nirvana--with the archetypal "loud, quiet, loud" dynamic, and that's valid. With those bands, that sound style was more about song craft and chord structuring than anything else. But the seemingly uncontrolled emotional out-pouring of Buckley's music and vocal athleticism turns the "loud, quiet, loud" blueprint into more of a "gentle, hostile, gentle" thing. It's hard to imagine too many artists that would work for, but Buckley made it his own, even if just for a short while. 

Check out the Song of the Day Archive!!

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