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Jeff Buckley: Grace - Album Of The Week Club review

Jeff Buckley's Grace: the ultimate example of an album that's passed into legend as much for what might have been as for what is was?

Jeff Buckley - Grace cover art
(Image: © Columbia)
Jeff Buckley - Grace

Jeff Buckley - Grace cover art

(Image credit: Columbia)

Mojo Pin
Grace
Last Goodbye
Lilac Wine
So Real
Hallelujah
Lover, You Should've Come Over
Corpus Christi Carol
Eternal Life
Dream Brother

Jeff Buckley copycats might mimic the angel voice, but they’re missing the point: the late Californian had eclectic tastes – Led Zeppelin, Al Di Meola, The Smiths… and his sole album mixed moments of drowsy beauty, So Real, with bombastic rock, Eternal Life, and reworked Middle English hymns, Corpus Christi Carol

Then, of course, there's Hallelujah. there’s an argument that the song belongs to everybody now, with some 300 documented versions spanning from the histrionics of X Factor belter Alexandra Burke to the mannered balladry of John Cale. 

But in the end only two versions really matter: the original, on its writer Leonard Cohen’s Various Positions album of 1984, that gave the song life, and Jeff Buckley’s spellbinding one-man tour de force, released a decade later on Grace. Both still force all else into the background. 

“I know I can do better,” said Buckley – but he never got the chance.

“One guitar record I didn’t ‘get’ at first was Jeff Buckley’s Grace," says Halestorm's Lzzy Hale (opens in new tab). "But it’s only because, as a singer myself, I was overly distracted by his amazing voice. At first, I considered it more of a vocal album. But as I dug in, I realised that the man was an absolute genius on guitar.”

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Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in August 1994

  • Rotting Piñata - Sponge
  • Prick - Melvins
  • Autogeddon - Julian Cope
  • Burn My Eyes - Machine Head
  • After the Storm - Crosby, Stills & Nash
  • Handful of Rain - Savatage
  • Maybe You Should Drive - Barenaked Ladies
  • Sleeps with Angels - Neil Young and Crazy Horse
  • Bust a Nut - Tesla
  • Stoned & Dethroned - The Jesus and Mary Chain
  • Without A Sound - Dinosaur Jr.
  • Down - The Jesus Lizard
  • The Holy Bible - Manic Street Preachers
  • Thirsty Work - Status Quo
  • Definitely Maybe - Oasis 
  • Twice Removed - Sloan

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What they said...

"Grace hit shelves in 1994, arguably alternative rock’s single greatest year; its contemporaries included Soundgarden’s Superunknown, Beck’s Mellow Gold, Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, Hole’s Live Through This, Green Day’s Dookie, and Weezer’s (first) self-titled album, to name just a few. The question isn’t whether or not Grace was superior to them – you can decide that one for yourself – but it sounded so fundamentally unlike those other albums that it might as well have come from another era." (Consequence Of Sound (opens in new tab))

"Grace is an audacious debut album, filled with sweeping choruses, bombastic arrangements, searching lyrics, and above all, the richly textured voice of Buckley himself, which resembled a cross between Robert Plant, Van Morrison, and his father Tim. And that's a fair starting point for his music: Grace sounds like a Led Zeppelin album written by an ambitious folkie with a fondness for lounge jazz." (AllMusic (opens in new tab))

"Blessed with a fabulously versatile voice - one that could turn itself to gentle ballads, opera, gospel and rock with equal competence - Buckley all too often wrenched the old seven-octave beast up to 11, delivering delicately-worded phrases with a big heap of X Factor-style melisma, rather than subtlety and measure. Skip to the end of the title track of Grace, and tell me it wouldn't have benefited from a little more care and control." (The Guardian (opens in new tab))

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What you said...

Melissa Buckwell: Beautiful record! In my top 10 favourite records of all time. Diverse, raw and emotional. He was such a talent. Lover, You Should Have Come Over moves me every time. 10/10

Gary Claydon: A question: If Jeff Buckley hadn't died at such a tragically young age, would Grace be held in the same sort of reverence as it now is? Would we even be discussing it at any great length? The answer to the second part is surely yes, as he would have gone on to a career which led to who knows what and there were enough signs that 'who knows what' would have turned out to be something special. As to the first part, I admit, I'm far from certain it would be.

In 1994 Jeff Buckley was most definitely a work in progress and Grace was very much a reflection of that. This was no instant classic. In the U.K. album chart it barely scraped the top 50 and lasted a mere three weeks on the chart. There was no lack of publicity. Colombia records were firmly behind their boy, giving him a sizeable push, and why not? The talent was obvious, the road to its fulfilment barely trodden. 

Tour-wise, in the U.K., apart from a couple of London showcases – where you can bet there were a fair few industry liggers in attendance – Buckley was playing mainly small, provincial venues. I saw him at the City Varieties in Leeds which held around 500 at the time and it certainly wasn't a sell out. From what I could tell, it was pretty much the same story up and down the country. So I'm not entirely convinced that there was as much of a 'buzz' around Grace at the time as you might expect. That would come later.

The album itself? It has moments of brilliance but is too inconsistent to be called a truly great album. I'll get the negatives out of the way. Buckley's vocals are, obviously, the centre point of his work, with good reason. He was possessed of a multi-octave voice and, boy, was he gonna use it. That's all well and good but, for me, the vocal gymnastics can be a bit unnecessary at times, a little tiresome even and this is best illustrated by the three covers. 

Hallelujah has, of course, become Jeff Buckley's signature tune to the point that many people won't be aware that it is a cover (it's worth noting that he based his version more on that of John Cale than on Leonard Cohen's original). It's become one of those songs that I wouldn't care if I never heard it again. It's also a song which has had its meaning disappear over time, both things being entirely down to the Buckley version. 

I remember reading a review at the time that was pretty disparaging about the Grace track. The reviewer's main gripe was that Buckley didn't sound nearly "desperate" enough to carry it off. It's a view I share. The song's theme is of loss and loneliness, sex and religion, a life unfulfilled. It's not, however, a song of sadness. Rather it's a song of redemption and, most of all, hope. Jeff Buckley just doesn't sound like somebody who has been so kicked around by life that they have needed to reach that 'Praise Be' moment. His version is too damn... pretty.

The inclusion of Lilac Wine and Corpus Christi Carol on top of Hallelujah is unnecessary for me. Beautifully sung they may be but that trio just seems to suck some of the life out of Grace. Buckley had other material worthy of inclusion instead, in particular the gorgeous, plaintive Forget Her which would be added to later releases.

The best parts? Eternal Life is excellent, going all 'Soundgarden' on proceedings and with a brilliant vocal. Mojo Pin and the title track make a fine opening salvo. The guy could rock when he wanted to, that's for sure. The production is top notch and I've always liked the guitar sound. Buckley assembled a very decent band around himself but it's his vocals that draw you in. Even if there is an element of self indulgence, it is easily ignored due to performances that are, in places, emotive, nuanced, powerful and, at times, truly mesmerising.

Overall, I'd call Grace a very good album, the aforementioned inconsistencies preventing it being a great one. The sad thing is, the world never got the chance to see where Jeff Buckley could have gone next.

David Cichocki: Incredible album, as a Sunday morning album it excels. His and his old man's albums lasted the test of time because they are timeless. The other word is classy. There aren't many Sunday morning albums that challenge and excite - and then pull you back in. Graceful - that's what it is.

John Davidson: A masterclass in sustained, ethereal melancholy, and doubtlessly the best shoegazing album ever produced, but it lacks the bluesy grit to give it real depth.

That said, he has a great voice and the guitar sound fits the songs but it's not an album I feel tempted to rush out and add to my collection. A lot of people cite Eternal Life as their favourite and it is a welcome change of pace, but it doesn't do much more than that for me.

It's a well constructed album both in terms of production and song choice with the opening and closing songs (Mojo Pin, Grace and Dream Brother, Forget Her) being the strongest (Hallelujah is too overplayed to enjoy now).

Alex Hayes: Hmm. I'd almost say it's a shame that Grace escaped my attentions at the time of its release. Maudlin' mid-90s me would have absolutely loved this. It would have easily ranked as one of my favourite albums of that period, along with the likes of Ten and Automatic For The People. Fortunately, for me, I've moved on for the better since then, and the kind of brooding melancholia that Grace excels at just isn't what I'm looking for in music anymore.

My two biggest issues with Grace aren't the fault of the album itself, or Jeff Buckley as an artist. It's not his fault that I've grown to loathe his inimitable vocal style, so thoroughly imitated/ripped off by so many inferior indie rock numbnuts as it's been since. Neither was Buckley to know just how ridiculously overused and vomit-inducing Hallelujah would become over the years. There's no question that Buckley's version here is the definitive one, it's just that if I never hear that song again it will be far too soon.

There is an undeniable and understated beauty to Grace that would have been a great comfort to me during those godawful grunge/alternative rock/nu-metal dominated days of the 90s, stuck in a rut musically as I was back then. Thankfully, I got my classic rock mojo back, and this kind of stuff just comes across to me as mawkish and over-sentimental nowadays.

Similarly, I can barely stomach Ten, Automatic For The People and many other albums from the 90s today. They evoke bad memories in me, and any positive qualities that I saw in them back in the day have long since evaporated. Again, that's not their fault. Those bands and that music didn't change, I did. I can easily imagine other fans absolutely adoring Grace. It's a tremendous album for its particular type. Sadly, that stopped being my type many years ago.

Steven Maxwell: It's a massively overrated album. The songs just really aren't there. It's real neato that he can flip into falsetto. But he was a very underdeveloped artist and writer. I am absolutely sure that would have changed as he went on, but he was far from 'there' yet. I actually loved one song on the odds and ends comp they released, a song called Everybody Here Wants You. Some hot shit right there. Better than anything on the album proper. He had promise. But 'promise' is all that album (Grace) really showed. Sorry. People need to be objective.

Adriano Gazza: Masterpiece, still listen regularly. Eternal Life is up there with Zeppelin. 

Barry Keogh: Love this album though it took a few listens to really get into it. Last Goodbye is my track of the album but there is lots of good stuff on it

Adam McCann: Masterpiece of what it is, not what i'd choose to listen to these days though. However, I actually always preferred the versions on Mystery White Boy, they're much heavier, especially Eternal Life. That really is a *chefs kiss*.

Douglas Mackenzie: I like it, although it's a bit overrated due to his untimely death. I don't listen to it much, but it was a solid 4/5 when it came out and still gets an occasional listen.

Drew Martin: Masterpiece. 10/10. If you think it’s over rated listen to Smashmouth for 90s context.

Tiziano Caverni: Masterpiece.

Philip Qvist: Solid album, well crafted songs. The standout tracks for me were Mojo Pin, the title track, So Real and Dream Brother. Apart from the overplayed Hallelujah, which is hardly his fault, there isn't a single dud on it.

A great album in context of when it came out - and who knows what Jeff Buckley could have achieved if it wasn't for his untimely death.

Adrian Bolster: Had the privilege of seeing him at the Sheppards Bush Empire on March 4 1995. It remains one of my favourite concerts. This album is a definite 10 and my favourite track is Lover You Should Have Come Over, the lyrics are astonishing. Massive loss.

Cristian Fabian: One of the greatest albums ever. Unique, classic, powerful, but overall beautiful. When I discovered this I felt lucky, it was like finding a treasure. I felt literally fortunate to enjoy music that good.

Greg Schwepe: So, this album has been on my “I need to listen to this” list for a while. At one point it seemed like every other interview I read with some artist they were naming Grace as one of their favourite albums. I mean, a lot. “Wow, this must be something groundbreaking then. I need to check it out.” I finally did, and as the instructions on the package say; “Caution: your results may vary.”

Aaaaaaand… I’ll get straight to the point. This album did not grab me like I thought it might. While some albums may take a listen or two for the songs to take hold, usually after a first listen on every album there will be something that sticks in my subconscious; guitar riff, vocal melody, drum pattern. There was nothing here. There was no “wow, what have I been missing?” moment with this one. Album is OK, but not great.

But to be fair, there are dozens of albums from other artists I absolutely love that feature the same plaintive, introspective vocals with sparse clean arpeggio-styled guitar or acoustic “strum-y” instrumentation like Buckley provides. Where the entire album has that dreamy, ethereal, kind of meandering feel to it. That’s what Grace is, but it just doesn’t seem to stick. I don’t have a problem with the overall vibe of the album, actually sounds like a couple of Robert Plant’s last few solo albums in places. And I heard a little Led Zeppelin III in places (huge Zeppelin fan here), but that didn’t save it for me either.

I have a feeling had I bought this based on the buzz about the album back in ’94, I would’ve lost interest and got that “so, why did I buy this?” feeling a month later and it would’ve ended up at the “Buy Counter” at my local used record/bookstore along with a stack of some other "I've lost interest" CDs.

Based on a quick scan of initial comments from the group, I might be in the minority this week with Grace. Overall, I enjoyed Buckley’s voice, the guitars, but I just didn’t see this as the landmark album of that era that others did.

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Final Score: 8.08 (91 votes cast, total score 736)

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