Review Summary: Oblivion carries me on his shoulder.
There's a time and a place for everything in life. Nothing in specific, but in the world of music, everything comes down to chance and opportunity. One will never know exactly when
their time will come, but there’s a defining moment that will signal a change upon the shimmering horizon. Tim Buckley’s shining opportunity came with a change in labels in 1969. Following rather poor sales for the jazzy Happy Sad
and the abstract freak folky Lorca
, Buckley was approached by Straight, a Warner sub-label co-ran by guitar maestro Frank Zappa and Herb Cohen, to record for them. This not only allowed Buckley full reign to record whatever the hell he wanted, but also enabled Buckley’s long suppressed talents to fully emerge and take root. This was Buckley’s golden opportunity, something that came once in a lifetime. Following the recording of the relaxed, lounge jazz-tinged Blue Afternoon
, Buckley recruited a band consisting mostly of Zappa’s Mothers of Invention (Lee Underwood, Bunk and Buzz Gardner), percussionist Maury Baker and bassist John Balkin. This lineup formed for this occasion would play a major part in the creation of what is potentially Buckley’s finest (and most tripped-out) hour, the spacey bizzare avant-jazz freak folk acid trip Starsailor
Trying to even understand how Starsailor
came to be is a full thesis waiting to written, a whole expose on what was going through Buckley’s mind in 1970. It’s difficult to comprehend the thought process behind such an avant-garde work and honestly, trying to make any sense of it doesn’t do the music proper justice. There are several one word descriptors that can accurately give a vague idea as to what the album represents – “sexual”, “insane”, “cryptic”, hypnotic”, and “dissonant”. These all fit within the context of Starsailor
and its nine songs. The lead off ”Come Here Woman”
just oozes wild sensuality amidst the strained organs and tight guitar riffs, all complimented by a ridiculously good rhythm section that holds the entire thing together. The lone segment of what comes close to sobriety, Buckley’s ode to his love, ”Song to the Siren”
, marks a brief reprieve from the constant assault the listener will slowly come to love. A major player in what defines Starsailor
is Buckley’s evolution not only as a guitarist but as a vocalist as well. Buckley has always been skilled at both playing and singing, however his progress allowed him to implement his voice as an instrument, making for truly horrifying moments where he loses himself among the chaos and excitement.
The compositions all feature one constant for the most part, with repetition playing a part in making several of the songs featured here greatly alluring. There’s moments where Buckley has truly gone off the deep end with tracks such as the haunting vocal to ”Starsailor”
, the blaring horns that help drive ”The Healing Festival”
, and the vigorous shrieking of ”Jungle Fire”
. Tension is ever present in the gaps between the havoc on the slowly unfurling ”I Woke Up”
and the introduction to the pseudo-funk riffage of album closer ”Down by the Borderline”
, yet the long-building tension never ceases and continues to linger even after the album is long over, its nervosity remaining with its listener as a parting gift. Starsailor
’s cover alone is like a final warning to those who come across it, with Buckley’s squinted grin being a daring glance to those who consider giving the album a spin. The risk is worth taking, not only for the mind bending experience that it is, but for the aural representative for the moment in time when Tim Buckley's time had finally come to really let loose. Never again would he reach this type of peak with his descent into drug abuse, and it's tragic to even think about the wasted potential he displayed during this period. At the least, we should be glad Buckley had the chance to express himself, right?