It’s weird what time can do to a record. Or rather, it’s weird what time can do to the perception of a record – it’s the aural equivalent of bumping into a long-lost lover in a supermarket queue, but instead of nostalgic pangs or bitter-sweet recollection, the overriding sentiment is one of ennui. A statement of just how far apart our individual orbits have carried us.
The other day I sat down to work on something that may or may not have appeared in this weekend’s Fucked-Up Festive Fifty slot (yes, I’m aware that many posts on this site resemble the hastily-assembled rantings of a semi-literate drunkard, but amidst the loyal support to the local liquor store, I do actually invest far too much time and effort constructing something I hope is fit for public consumption). Thus I duly reclined by the stereo, notebook in hand. Two albums were played, plus a more obscure live EP recorded in a NYC club in 1993. I even got as far as jotting down a snappy opening for the piece:
It’s obscene that the world was granted Jeff Buckley – then before we knew it, he was snatched away. Two studio albums – and one of those only half-completed before that fateful dip in the Mississippi.
Now, obviously I’m going to stand by that (even if technically Buckley drowned in a tributary of the Mississippi); the sheer intensity of vocal pedigree lost (like his father) way too soon. But – and there always has to be a but – once shiny discs had started to spin within the stereo’s innards, it was becoming readily apparent that any emotional connection had been broken. That in the gap between an obsessive listening to Jeff Buckley records towards the climax of the last millennium, and today’s version of a star-struck indie kid, my perception had headed off in totally a different direction. It wasn’t that I disliked what I was hearing, but neither could I honestly admit to experiencing those expected tremors that wonderful sounds always induce.
Toiling under the principal that it’s my appreciation that’s wandered off (I don’t recall hearing that Columbia Records had remixed and remastered the back catalogue, then sneaked round to the LGM compound in the depth of night to swap discs over – although I wouldn’t put it past them), notes taken became less of a celebration of his songcraft, more a listing of baffled sentiment. Where once I heard rousing statements of emotional literacy, I’m now only able to identify a coldness. A production that’s far too clean, and an execution as if hermetically sealed.
Grace, Buckley’s début album, was released in 1994 to a wave of critical approval. Yet to take a couple of other albums released that year – most notably the sweeping majesty of Vauxhall & I, but also records by Nick Cave, Suede, the John Spencer Blues Explosion, Portishead, even Nine Inch Nails – there’s a fluid sense of context embedded within the sound, a freshness, a dynamic intrigue that’s still readily apparent seventeen years later. I don’t detect that with Jeff Buckley’s recordings – even the posthumous Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk, with its more abrasive inclinations, sounds to my ears like a museum piece.
As suggested, this is my loss, not a critique. The qualities that endeared his music to me back then – the emotional dexterity, the angry-young-man urgency, and yes – obviously – that stunning voice – are still there; it’s simply my ability to assimilate that’s becomes deadened through years of self-abuse and jangly guitar.
On the plus side, this does leave room for one more shoegaze track in the Fucked-Up Festive Fifty than originally envisioned. But in the meantime, an alternate version of the Buckley track that would have been featured if this were 1998 and my orbit hadn’t degraded…
Jeff Buckley / Nightmares By The Sea