Grace Around the World
(Columbia/Sony Legacy; US: 2 Jun 2009; UK: 1 Jun 2009)
It is undeniable that Jeff Buckley’s posthumous legacy has turned the little-known avant-garde artist into something of a pop legend. Indeed, his record label’s persistent desire to churn out Buckley infused live song collections is almost unparalleled. With no less than nine releases since his death, the hunger to consume all things produced by the late musician has become a point of obsession for some of his followers. Now, with the release of Grace Around the World, another series of performances and a DVD can be added to the already overflowing collection of so-called “rarities”.
In this, the listener is privy to some of the first live recreations of Grace, which (despite my reservations), turned out to be as enthralling and devastating as the original work itself. It is obvious from listening to this material that Buckley was an artist consumed entirely with his own image and performance. On this, the original tracks extend into long, free-flowing productions, which suggest that Buckley was more preoccupied with experimenting than promoting a mainstream musical persona.
His singing at first sounds almost weighted down, before it gradually builds to a self-possessed crescendo of soaring falsetto and high drama. I find this execution interesting because it displays Buckley’s opposing personalities—equally camp and virile.
This tension (if we can call it that), between his quasi-theatrical presentation and his more reserved persona have perhaps helped fuel his long-lasting appeal, and as such, have infused all of his recordings with a loaded subtext. Like James Dean, Jeff possesses a strong (but fragile) heartthrob appeal, and his legacy is perpetuated by the unanswered questions that surround his short life.
Listening to this collection especially, questions arose to me, like “could Buckley have been bisexual or even, gay?” “What could he have done for the pantheon of gay music?” Certainly, he is the only contemporary ‘heterosexual’ male artist of note to tackle musical numbers such as, “The Man That Got Away” and Edith Piaf’s “Je N’en Connais Pas la Fin’’—propelling a tortured cabaret diva melancholy, whilst remaining, strangely masculine in his delivery.
On the other hand, I may be ‘reading’ far too deeply into the matter, but still, it is obvious that Buckley has had a significant influence on gay musical iconography. Arguably, everyone from Adam Lambert to Mika to Antony and the Johnsons have been influenced by Buckley Jr. – continuing to perpetuate his notion of theatrical masculinity.