Romance music is often marked by blind idealism or immature melancholy, neither of which is present on 1994’s Grace, perhaps the most passionate and heartfelt album ever made. That’s because Grace isn’t about romance, it’s an album about Jeff Buckley, a man whose music was as gorgeous as his life was mysterious and tragic.
Buckley inherited his vocal talent from his acclaimed, but estranged, father Tim Buckley, who died when Jeff was only eight from an accidental drug overdose. His voice is what carried him through the ranks of the New York City underground into professional studios, and it’s what pierces through every song on Grace, seemingly right into the listener’s soul. From traditional ballads to original rock songs, Buckley’s voice summons all it can muster: passion, love, desire, anguish, and, most importantly, turmoil, and beams it in every direction as if asking the universe for solace. The post-rock composition of many of the songs only serves to complement the mental unrest of Jeff Buckley. The music on “So Real” rises and falls, begging to find equilibrium, but it always returns to a state of constant tense fluctuation. On “Hallelujah,” Buckley uses the brilliant lyrics of Leonard Cohen to describe beauty and mutter pain until all he can do is belt out “hallelujah” into the abyss. Throughout Grace, Buckley’s stories of lovers and romantics hardly even matter, the greatness of the work is physical. All the sophistication and complexity of Grace is felt in Jeff Buckley’s “unearthly” crooning and its wondrous complimentary instrumental backing.
In 1997, just three years after the release of Grace, Jeff Buckley died in an accidental drowning. He was only two years older than his father was when he died. “He really didn’t see himself linked to his father in that way, that somehow he would inherit his father’s lifespan,” said his mother. They never met, yet they were cosmically linked. But while Tim Buckley made several albums in his lifetime, Jeff Buckley only left one album chronicling his life, and with Grace, he made himself one of the most complex and dynamic characters in all of music, one full of heart and longing, who contained enough emotional bandwidth to encapsulate the sorrows of every listener. Grace is perhaps the most uncharacteristic love album of all time, but anyone who has not heard it is doing themselves an active disservice.