Jeff Buckley – Grace (Review)

In my eyes, “Grace” is the best album of all time. Without Grace, my life would be so much more different to how it is now. When I first found Jeff Buckley’s music, it turned my life completely around and made me realise how much music means to me. It really opened my eyes to how much I want a career in music. There’s not really a day that goes by when I don’t listen to at least one song off Grace. Jeff has been my biggest inspiration in songwriting for about 4 years now and there’s so many things that I would have loved to ask him. He left this world far too soon and there will never be another artist like him.

“Mojo Pin” starts with angelic vocals from Jeff which makes us feel that this could be a perfectly soft song. When the percussion is slowly but surely added, the tension starts rising to make the audience believe “hey… this isn’t going to be soft at all, is it?” The lyrics explain a feeling of addiction, to either drugs or a person. Jeff also indicated once that the song was about a dream he had about a black woman. He also apparently invented the term “Mojo Pin” which makes it clear that it’s when you inject drugs into your arm. I feel if anxiety or even bipolar had a sound, it would be this song. The dynamics are constantly shifting up and down, whereas the vocals gradually build all the way through to the end with this refreshing power from Jeff. I personally feel that the song could be took in an unusual way too, perhaps Jeff was actually addicted to a person? He definitely wasn’t a drug addict or alcoholic, if he was ever addicted to something, it would have been love or music. As the song proceeds, it builds up making it sound that Jeff was getting frustrated with love for this woman. For such a gentle start to the album, Mojo Pin is simply put as an iconic song for Jeff. It showcases that he could be so soft and caring, but really show he meant business when he screamed of his pain at the same time.

I’ve always loved the imperfections of Jeff’s work, he never aimed to have things perfectly in time or sang correctly, he just performed the music to how it should be done, by felt. After the second chorus, a free, messy, jazz-fusion jam enters that’s totally unexpected but without it, the song wouldn’t have that tension yearning for release. As the jam comes to an end, we’re comforted by Jeff’s angelic vocals, singing a soft, melodic line that just sends shivers down my spine. Through Mojo Pin, it’s Jeff’s voice that just stuns the whole performance to make it such an amazing start to a debut album. The use of drug imagery in this song is so delicate and painful that it makes the audience feel like we’re on drugs too. Jeff’s love for this woman makes us feel that Jeff felt his problems would go away if he had love in his life. The change of rhythm from mid-beat to upbeat could prove more of his frustration for love. “The white horses flow, memories fire, the rhythms fall slow, black beauty I love you so” is a much deeper lyric than it sounds. White horse is another name for Heroin, Heroin affects your “memories”, and makes your heart beat slow. Plus black beauty is another word for speed. Like I said, his imagery of drugs is painfully amazing. It’s dark, twisted & stunning.

The title track, “Grace” was originally an instrumental song written by Gary Lucas and Jeff added the vocal melody and lyrics. The song begins with a complex guitar hook that’s memorable and is all about the rhythm more than the notes. It twinkles brightly and gives across a romantic vibe that makes you long for love too. The song is in the key of E minor, but uses chords that aren’t found in that scale, which makes the song sound hard to recognise what key it is actually in. Jeff wrote the lyrics inspired by saying goodbye to his girlfriend at an airport in the rain. The song is more about not feeling bad about yourself when you have true love by your side. Grace is about keeping alive and staying true to yourself even when you feel things may be going bad. Grace was the first Jeff Buckley song I ever listened too and it holds a very special place in my heart. “There’s the moon asking to stay” is terribly sad, as asking to stay could imply that death is sometimes closer than we think. “Long enough for the clouds to fly me away” indicates flying away to heaven. You could say that Jeff turned a negative feeling into a positive healing. “Well it’s my time coming, I’m not afraid, afraid to die”… I really hope that lyric was true.

In the second verse, Jeff’s guitar is in counterpoint with his lyrics “but she cries to the clicking of time, oh time” to add effect to the clicking of time. Another great thing about Jeff was that he was so intelligent too, he knew exactly how he wanted his songs to sound. Later in the song, it seems that he’s singing about drowning: “I feel them drown my name, so easy to know and forget with this kiss, I’m not afraid to go, but it goes so slow.” This is so upsetting, as that’s the way Jeff left us. The choruses famous “wait in the fire” is linked to a Sufi idea which isn’t surprising as Jeff loved Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The Sufi’s often said that their love for God is like a fire that cleanses the soul. I must say that the vocal power in Grace is the one thing that just leaves me speechless every time I hear it. Jeff literally just screamed this one note for over 10 seconds, ending the vocal phrase with an even higher note. It showcases that he really was one of the best vocalists of all time with his range just frying my brain. The instrumentation of the song keeps the same chilling emotion throughout with the instruments sometimes making inhumane noises that sound like things that might linger in hell. I completely love the message that Jeff gave with this song. What’s the point in feeling scared of death? We know we will all become of it one day, but we’re living right now. Live here, in this moment, don’t long for death, because it will come eventually.

“Last Goodbye” starts with what sounds like it’s going to be a heavy, country rock song. The bass line plays what could be a vocal line or potentially a riff, but before to long, the drums indicate a new section of the song featuring a more acoustic chilled vibe before taking it back to the bass riff. When the song starts properly after the interesting introduction, it’s slightly less interesting to what we would have hoped for. The song is about a man who’s in love with a woman but still breaks things off with her for no reason at all, possibly feeling that he isn’t up to her expectations. I feel with the orchestral instruments on this song, it makes it sound like something that Page and Plant would have performed on their 1994 No Quarter tour. It’s a stunning arrangement, but it doesn’t feel as big as the first two songs on the album. It’s a love ballad prominently, Jeff definitely did have a lot of emotions to get out about love, which makes me feel sad, maybe he took most of it to the grave? The song features segments throughout of hard rock layers that causes more tension for the song. I really like how this song doesn’t really have a chorus, it just has the main hook line, which is short, sweet but still memorable. Overall, the song deals with feeling good about a break up but slowly regretting it.

The next track is the first of the three covers on Grace, “Lilac Wine.” Written by James Shelton, Jeff’s version is drowned in a delicious reverb that doesn’t have a strong delay to it either. It’s spacious, stunning and free. The lyrics are kindled around heartache of losing a lover and taking to drinking wine made from a lilac tree. It’s a mellow, pop ballad that completely drifts you off to another planet. I love the short silences in this song which creates a dynamic, tensed shift. Jeff certainly made everything his own. If you haven’t heard already, he did a cover of an old jazz song called Strange Fruit and it’s completely mesmerizing.

An elegant, guitar sequence is played at the beginning of “So Real” and then falls into a minor chord indicating the entrance to the first verse. So Real is a personal favourite of mine as it takes you through a dark mellow rollercoaster of isolation and love. This song could be the aftermath of Last Goodbye (the break up) and now living with the regret of ending a relationship that was actually good. “And I couldn’t awake from this nightmare, it sucked me in and pulled me under” is a horrific lyric about being fearful of drowning. Jeff Buckley fans always find it hard to listen to certain lyrics and that’s definitely one of them. As we get to the half way mark of the song, we get to a section that’s so scary. Jeff had a few songs in with sections that sounded exactly like monsters stalking earth for their prey.

I completely believe that with this song in particular, you have to be in a mind-set to listen to it to fully understand it. One time, I listened to the scary section and wasn’t in a listening mindset and ended up hearing a lawn mower which ruined that part for me for a short while. What I’m trying to say is, give that section a chance, you’ll even be petrified of it or find it funny, there’s not really an in-between. As the section comes to a close, everything goes silent, before Jeff enters with “I love you, but I’m afraid to love you.” The instruments start again but slightly slower than before, but the pace gradually picks up again. The song is truly stunning, the instrumentation is beautiful, but with the lyrics as a combination, it becomes a cry for help. The lyrics and music compliment each other so nicely that it leaves you completely stunned of what’s just happened after listening to it. Jeff’s vocal performance towards the end of the song becomes so historic that it leaves me with goosebumps every time I hear it. The song is completely real and the atmosphere brought to it is nerve-wracking. It’s lonely and isolated to the point where it makes you feel uneasy when listening to it alone. Jeff’s vocal ability always managed to reassure the listeners that everything’s going to be ok.

The most famous track in Jeff’s discography just happens to be a cover and the most beautiful cover to ever be released? It could well be. The sigh at the beginning of “Hallelujah” is so powerful yet so questionable. Why’s it there for? To mark a hard song is ahead? Possibly. That’s one thing that will be left untold. The song was written by Leonard Cohen who passed away in 2016, and it’s about a love which has gone stale and out of date. Cohen used a lot of religious imagery, referring to the bible. It also refers to how this woman is in charge of her man and that he can’t take control because of her feminine features. The whole performance by Jeff is purely electric guitar and vocals, it sure does keep you captivated the whole way through. The guitar work is intricate and states another argument… could Jeff Buckley have been one of the greatest guitarists to have ever lived too? He could well be. Before the last verse, Jeff takes us into an instrumental break before ending the song dynamically powerful. He didn’t scream the vocals, but he did shout a bit to get his message across before ending with his pure angelic vocals. The longest track on the album at 6:52, and it’s definitely not a track that you’ll be skipping anytime soon. Jeff’s version makes the song of praise into a yearning for acceptance track. It gives the same simplicity of Lilac Wine does, but this cover is so raw that it leaves you cold and wanting warmth by listening to it on repeat.

Jeff realised and finally understood, that his life was full of failed relationships. In “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”, he recognised that he had been too immature in a relationship, but figured out the girl he broke up with could have actually been the “one.” The song is entered with what sounds like interference before an accordion plays an irish style folk melody or something that you’d hear in a church. I think that Grace could be took as a love, concept album that deals with the processes of love – love, heartbreak, immaturity, regret to name a few. The most precious thing about Jeff was his originality. There was no one like him before and there will never be anyone like him again. He had influences and inspirations obviously, from Led Zeppelin, Django Reinhardt, but he shined through with his own sound which inspired many people around the world and still does do this day. The song takes us through a long, hard battle as she didn’t come over like he wanted her too, but if she ever was too, he would have always welcomed her back in open arms. If he was still alive today and she came back, maybe that would have had a long, happy life together. It’s so upsetting and heartbreaking to think what if.

The song has been covered by Jamie Cullum, John Mayer and Matt Corby to name a few, who all have Jeff Buckley as a strong influence in their music, especially Matt Corby. I’d personally say that this song isn’t quite up there with all the others on the album, but it still is in its own league. It’s important on this album because it keeps the love process, concept, real. No matter what we go through, we all have heart-break eventually, maybe that’s not necessarily a relationship breaking up, it’s the loss of someone. I couldn’t imagine what Jeff’s family felt like when he unexpectedly passed away.

“Corpus Christi Carol” is the last cover on the album and it’s a hymn from 1504, which Jeff sings completely like an angel. Jeff once said that the song is about a fairytale about a falcon who takes the singers love to an orchard. The singer goes searching for her and arrives at a chamber where his love lies next to a knight who’s bleeding, with a tomb next to him with Christ’s body in it. It’s a pretty dark song that sounds so beautiful from Jeff’s vocals which is blinding us of what’s actually happening. The song is the shortest track on the album at 2:57 and critics have said before “What’s the point of it even being on here?” but without it, we wouldn’t have heard Jeff’s vocal range took to a whole new level. I’m sure if anyone else in the 1990’s took a hymn like this, recorded it and put it on their album, they wouldn’t have pulled it off, but because Jeff was always on his own level and didn’t ever care what others thought, he pulled it off brilliantly.

The second to last track on the album, “Eternal Life” has been said to be heavily inspired by Led Zeppelin, but Jeff had his own refreshing sound that still sounds new after over 20 years later. The song is mainly about anger and that life’s way to short to care about what others think of you, your colour, religious beliefs etc. We are all different, let’s just except that. You can take this song as a protest song to be honest, because Jeff stood up for what he believed in and believed that everyone was unique in their own way. The main lyric that stands out to me is “There’s no time for hatred, only questions, where is love? where is happiness? what is life? where is peace?” which indicates that the only thing we see in the media is fear. We never see the happy. Jeff tried to get the message across that people need to be asking the questions he stated. What is life? What is the purpose of life if there’s no love or happiness? Still to this day, that message is so important. I wish more people would listen to Jeff and especially this song to understand that yes, it’s ok to not be ok, but question yourself more about the things that you do.

It’s political, but not in the aspect that he’s saying “you should vote for this person” which I adore. I don’t really like when artists state who to vote for and who to like, when again, we all have our own opinions so let’s stick to them and not follow what others think. As the song is angry, I really love how Jeff and his band let rip and let loose in this song. It’s an iconic moment for the Grace album. This track is quite Nirvana esque too. 

The last track on what is the most important album to ever exist to me is “Dream Brother.” The guitar refrain is quite a simple melody that doesn’t sound as original as I hoped it would have been when I first heard it, but it’s still so effective. The song was written by Jeff, bassist Mick and drummer Matt, and it was written about a friend of theirs, Chris Dowd, urging him to not walk out on his girlfriend who was pregnant at the time (which Jeff’s dad Tim Buckley did to him.) The song is quite moody and is definitely the definition of a 90’s indie track. The song is quite experimental too and a strong one in Jeff’s small catalogue. I must say though, for it being the last track on the album, it doesn’t really give off a happy send off, but it definitely leaves you wanting more songs. Which we never really got or never will get… It’s a deep and meaningful album that leaves us wanting to know answers. Plus, it’s an emotional goodbye to the legend that is, Jeff Buckley.

Grace will always hold a special place in my heart, as will Jeff Buckley entirely. The album captivates me from start to finish every time I listen to it. Wanting more and knowing there will never be anymore, makes Grace more special.

We miss you Jeff, hope you’re taking it easy wherever you are.

(This review is of the original track listing – Forget Her was released in 2004 on the 10 year anniversary of Grace reissue.)
Favourite Tracks: Mojo Pin, Grace, Last Goodbye, Lilac Wine, So Real, Hallelujah, Eternal Life, Dream Brother.

Score: 10/10

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2 Comments

  1. I put Grace in my ten favourite albums of all time, it’s a flawless record and this was a really interesting perspective on it. Sketches For My Sweetheart the Drunk has some amazing Jeff material on it too, even if it’s a little rough around the edges. Great review!

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