Jeff Buckley - Grace (Legacy Edition)
1994 was one hell of a year. Portishead's Dummy made trip-hop the ultimate hipster currency. Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral gave us industrial's first bona-fide star and, most people would say, the genre's defining work. Nirvana released an Unplugged album that still regularly graces our screens today. The Manic Street Preachers' The Holy Bible redefined bleak and made Richey Edwards an enduring cult hero. The Beastie Boys released Ill Communication, and if nothing else, made Spike Jonze a star. Oasis released Definitely Maybe, and British rock suddenly got a massive kick in the arse.
Looking back on that list, we can see that 1994 was a year of death discs, too. Nirvana's Unplugged was Kurt Cobain's last stand. The Holy Bible was Richey Edward's last plea for help and sanity. But NOBODY'S death hurt as much as Jeff Buckley's.
Grace was originally released in 1994, too. At the time, some people said it was a disappointment. Next to The Downward Spiral, Definitely Maybe, and Unplugged, that may well have been the initial impression. Substitute Unplugged for Nevermind, and these three albums each redefined their respective area of rock - they were all acclaimed upon release as world-changing records. They would all also go on to be huge hits. Grace didn't - yet, whereas those three were nail bombs, Grace proved to be something of a smoke grenade. In other words, the influence it had was not as immediate, but word of mouth carried it further, over a greater period of time. Right now, Grace holds more sway over rock and indie than any of those albums. And nobody thinks it's a disappointment anymore.
Skip to today. The year is 2004, the month August, and it's exactly 10 years since Grace was first released. In that time we've seen the release of several live albums, some bootlegs, and the 'sketches' for the second album he would never get to make. Now, we see the re-release of Grace. Not just that, but the release of a second disc of outtakes, and a DVD containing a documentary and all the videos released from Grace - Grace, Last Goodbye, Eternal Life, and So Real, plus the new single, Forget Her.
Essentially, the Grace featured here on the first disc is the same Grace we all know and love. It's been remastered - the intro to Mojo Pin is a bit louder, the guitars on Eternal Life are clearer - but otherwise, genius has not been tampered with. For the sake of completeness, here's my track-by-track ratings.
Mojo Pin - 5/5
Grace - 5/5
Last Goodbye - 5/5
Lilac Wine - 4/5
So Real - 4.5/5
Hallelujah - 4.5/5
Lover, You Should've Come Over - 5/5
Corpus Christi Carol - 4/5
Eternal Life - 5/5
Dream Brother - 5/5
You could say that Lilac Wine and Corpus Christi Carol aren't as good as the rest of the album - but would removing the title track from Pet Sounds, or Electioneering from OK Computer, somehow make them 5-and-a-half star albums" (Logic courtesy of pitchforkmedia.) Grace remains all the things it always was - beautiful, consistent, inventive, revelatory. This album is bona-fide 5 out of 5 material. It's also amazing that, with retrospect, Jeff Buckley's original compositions tower over the covers. If Jeff had more confidence in his own ability, Grace could have been even better.
Jeff's lack of confidence in his own ability can be found in Forget Her. Rather than replace one of Corpus Christi Carol, Hallelujah, or Lilac Wine (all covers), Jeff chose to remove Forget Her from Grace's tracklisting once So Real was written. Although it's hard to imagine a different tracklisting than the one we've lived with for 10 years, the decision is baffling. The intro seems far too simple by Buckley's standards, but then it blossoms into the kind of R&B-influenced balladry Jeff would later revisit to equally stunning effect on Everybody Here Wants You. I was almost moved to tears upon hearing this track for the first time, the first time that's happened since - yup - Everybody Here Wants You. It's actually better than Everybody Here Wants You, and that's saying something. It's even a strong contender for Jeff Beckley's best song ever. This song is to be released as a single. I truly hope to high Heaven, or whatever other world may exist, that this song is a huge hit. It's exactly what he, and his legend, deserves.
In fairness to Jeff, the DVD explains that Forget Her was dropped from the album because it was written about Jeff's only serious girlfriend, and he found it too painful to perform. So how much of the decision to drop Forget Her was because of his confidence, and how much was because of personal reasons, I don't know.
The rest of the bonus disc shows just what Jeff could have become, arguably better than anything else released under his name. On this evidence, Jeff could have become the world's greatest genre chameleon, putting Beck to complete shame, making Radiohead look like they're trying too hard. I've never heard anyone stand across so many genres so efficiently. Who else could cover Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Hank Williams, Nina Simone, Bad Brains and Billie Holiday with such ease" And make all of them sound convincing - somehow a tribute, yet somehow utterly Jeff Buckley" This bonus disc sees him tackle R&B on Forget Her, Indian/Arabic influences on an alternate take of Dream Brother, country on Lost Highway, Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "voodoo jive" on Alligator Wine, folk rock on Mama, You Been On My Mind, blues on Parchman Farm Blues, soul on The Other Woman, proggy jamming on Kanga-Roo, jazzy pop on I Want Someone Badly, Year Zero punk on Kick Out The Jams....
Some tracks on this bonus disc have been previously released on the Grace EPs (Lost Highway, Kanga-Roo, Eternal Life, Dream Brother). All the others are previously unreleased, except I want Someone Badly, from the First Love, Last Rights soundtrack. So, how much of this is new to you depends on whether you own the Grace EPs, really. The only trouble I can say with these bonus tracks - as a sweeping generalisation - is that, while they're fascinating, they don't grab you as much as the Grace material, or the Live At Sin-E Legacy album, does. I'd say they're still worth having, but then again, I'm a Jeff Buckley completist. As a standalone disc it would be just above average by Jeff's standards, probably on the level of Live A L'Olympia or the first disc of Sketches..... Forget Her elevates it, as do his versions of Alligator Wine (an accurate and playful Jay Hawkins impression), and I Want Someone Badly, written by one of his best friends. There's precious little filler, too - the Road version of Eternal Life rocks like a bastard, faturing the riff from the L'Olympia version. You might find that Kanga-Roo drags a little (14 minutes, 8 seconds), and the Dream Brother remix is mostly the same music with chopped up vocals, but that's it.
As a musical experience, Grace is the definition of beauty. 10 years on, we've got this to make the experience even better. Beauty never looked so good.
This DVD is the best Buckley DVD I've seen, for sure. It's far better than the bonus DVD that comes with Live At Sin-E.
It includes all the videos released in support of Grace - Last Goodbye, Grace, Eternal Life, So Real, and the new video for Forget Her. How about a little video-by-video rundown"
Grace is mainly a performance video, shown in sepia tint. It's interspersed with some shots of city life. The camera work is reminiscent of Nine Inch Nail's Closer video - or maybe that's just a Media student talking. Some shots appear to be looking out of the window of the room out onto the street below - an inspiration for Radiohead's Just, perhaps" Jeff's hair should be mentioned - it looks like he hasn't combed it in days.
Last Goodbye is a little more ambitious, and features more close-ups of the rest of the band. This time, the band are in full colourm performing in front of a big screen, playing selected slips from documentaries. Again it recalls Nine Inch Nails - this time, Hurt. Explosions, fire, and flowers all feature. As far as I'm aware, this is Jeff's most famous video.
So Real reminds me of a Smiths/Morrissey video to start. Jeff rides around the city on a bicycle, wearing a suit. He enters a cafe and gets accosted by his bandmates and a camera before - get this - men in monkey suits come and steal his bike! Then, for the weird distored riff (just before 'I love you.....), it suddenly becomes a Flaming Lips video, except much more disconcerting. People with bag on their heads float autonomously around in a freak show gone wrong. There's more performance, interspresed with monkeys, and by the end Jeff is topless. The best video of the set.
Eternal Life is basically a live performance of the Road Version on the bonus disc. it's shot in widescreen with a blue border, and the video looks like it's being transmitted on a TV with a slightly dodgy reception. You get to see Jeff solo, but it's brief.
And so, Forget Her, the new video. Filled with previously unseen footage of Jeff, the obvious comparison is Johnny Cash's Hurt (another NIN link!). In a lot of ways, this is the most eye-catching and memorable video among the five.
None of the videos are especially groundbreaking (possibly So Real aside), but they're all enjoyable to watch, and they suit the music well. Ultimately, the music is the most memorbale thing, but can we really complain about that"
The interactive Jeff Buckley discography is little more than an advert to tell you what you haven't bought yet. Which reminds me, I should get the Grace EPs sometime.
I won't spoil the documentary for you, but I will say it's the best documentary of Jeff I've ever seen. It takes in the entire process of recording Grace, including chats with key figures such as the string arranger. You get to see Jeff play double bass (not looking very confident about it), and you get footage of the recording of Hallelujah. I can see them making a video for Hallelujah from this footage, at some point. Maybe for Grace's 20th anniversary reissue. The recent BBC2 documentary aside, it's also the only one I'd watch multiple times. I haven't yet, but I'm sure I will.
If you look at the DVD as the icing on the cake, this is a pretty thick layer of icing, I'll tell you that.