Jeff Buckley – ‘Grace’

There are some albums where I can remember the exact time and place I found them, or they found me. Or someone introduces it, like James whilst smoking his full strength Malboro in the processing room at MVC Bournemouth. He found it, shouted about it and from my recollection it was an escalation of appreciation from most staff members over the next few months. In September ’94 Jeff Buckley’s Grace hit quite a few of us very, very hard.

I had heard of his dad, Tim, but had yet to discover his music so I was unaware of that part of the family’s legacy. Grace is an album where elaborate superlatives are nowhere near enough. The music contained within the ten tracks is of such extraordinary quality that simply describing what you hear will always fall short. Of far more importance is the music’s overwhelming effect on your emotions, your soul and your senses. Goosebump level is always a good indicator of a great album and Grace scores ridiculously high on never-ending skin tingles. So, apologies, I’m going to fall short.

There’s something about Jeff Buckley that feels so undeniably veracious and real, and about Grace that feels so unquestionably convincing. Every single second of Grace sounds like he has to make it count, there’s not a moment where the intensity drops or the music lacks anything other than total conviction. Opener Mojo Pin is almost a tease, suggesting Buckley’s genius before the title trace Grace confirms it with a last two minutes that just erupt. The range of his vocals within these ten tracks is sumptuous, but to call Buckley’s soaring multi-octave vocals angelic or ethereal would be just too simple, just too lazy. The depth of emotion is everything, and it’s everywhere.

The album’s covers are impeccable. Lilac Wine, Corpus Christi Carol and Hallelujah do more than highlight Buckley’s vocal prowess; he’s taken great songs and with stunning arrangements made them his own, and as far as musical contrasts go in successive songs, Corpus Christi Carol into Eternal Life just shows Buckley’s full range. Eternal Life is the nearest Grace gets to grunge, but for me this rides all over the genre. It’s intense, thunderous, and utterly beautiful. Finally, Dream Brother sums up the brilliance of Grace. It has everything; a dreamy and transcendental feel which just radiates the sort of excessive depth that you just want to sink into.

Grace is my favourite album since the 1970s. That’s over forty years of great artists and albums, and this one tops the lot. David Bowie once claimed Grace to be among his favourite albums ever made, calling it the one album he would take to a desert island. Jimmy Page called Grace close to being his favourite album of the decade and Bob Dylan named Buckley one of the greatest songwriters of the decade. Says it all.

David Bowie – ‘Hunky Dory’

The summer of 1992, those were some of the best days of my life. But working for Keycamp wasn’t all sunshine and parties. Scrubbing groundsheets in a filthy tent in 100-degree heat with a hellish hangover is no fun. Digging trenches outside punters’ tents to drain away flood water. “How was your ten-hour drive? Welcome to your underwater holiday home.” is not an easy thing to say. But it was mostly sunshine and parties, and music. Incredible music. David Bowie’s Hunky Dory was next.

Bowie was a must-play at Charivari, but I was lazily restricted to his Changes One & Two albums, plus his ’67 self-titled debut. I don’t know why it took me so many years to check out more, but when I heard Hunky Dory, my Bowie-love rocketed. David Bowie is a musical genius, a rockstar in the truest sense of the world and a true visionary. The best albums scream their own sense of identity, and none scream louder than Hunky Dory.

It’s impossible to ignore Bowie’s stunning visual presence, but if it were, the album is still an evocative masterpiece, brilliantly flamboyant and kaleidoscopic. That said, these songs transcended the image, and throughout its 11 tracks never falls far from that lofty perfect perch. I loved it in its arty, cabaret-glam entirety but fell head over heels for the Velvets-inspired Queen Bitch and Kinks-esque Kooks. We must’ve had the 1990 re-released CD complete with four bonus tracks because Bombers was another favourite, showcasing Bowie’s avant-garde and cinematic genius…

“Seemed a good idea
To drop a bomb on the wasteland here
Only one man could be seen
And he was old and so serene
Captain sat in his deck chair
And the red light flashed, beware
Pilot felt quite big-time
As the bomb sailed through the air
Well, they danced and sang
When the bang went bang
When the lights popped out
And the smoke began to clear
It was positively queer”

Featuring the impossible-to-overrate-co-creator Mick Ronson in what was to become the Spiders From Mars, plus soon to be Yes mainman Rick Wakeman on piano, Hunky Dory was a voyage into music-hall decadence as seen through the mind of the ultimate musical stargazer; the supreme dreamer, romancer, chancer and whimsical rock earthling. Bingeing on Hunky Dory in the hot, French summer of ’92 coloured up my already sunny days. Alongside the narrative angst and inward-looking After The Goldrush, Bowie’s Hunky Dory was the most perfect overdose of musical and starry-eyed swagger.