ON THIS DATE (14 YEARS AGO)
May 26, 1998 – Jeff Buckley: Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 4/5
# Allmusic 4/5 stars
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk is a collection of polished studio tracks and four-track demos recorded by Jeff Buckley, released posthumously on this date in May 1998.
Being dissatisfied with material recorded in the summer of 1996 and early in 1997, Buckley worked on many demos to reach the sound he was hoping to achieve. To be titled My Sweetheart, the Drunk, the album was never finished, as the rest of the band were traveling to meet Buckley at the time of his death. The album’s original sessions were produced by Television frontman Tom Verlaine.
“My Sweetheart the Drunk” was the working title that Jeff Buckley was using while writing and recording the album. The title was intended by his mother and sole heir of his estate, Mary Guibert, to be rendered with parentheses, as Sketches (For My Sweetheart the Drunk). This was because Jeff’s work was not finished, and therefore was just an outline, or “sketch”, of what would have been released.
We’ll never know for sure what artistic heights Jeff Buckley might have gone on to reach, since he was taken from us so obscenely early, with only time enough to complete one album and begin work on a second. With the help of Sketches, though, we can make some educated guesses. This double-disc, lovingly assembled by Buckley’s friends, colleagues and family, gathers together both his studio efforts and home 4-track demos for the album he was trying to complete up until his tragic drowning.
The studio sessions, produced by Tom Verlaine, find Buckley downplaying his phenomenal vocal abilities somewhat, in favor of focusing on the songs, from the Zeppelinisms of “The Sky Is A Landfill” to the undoubtedly Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan-influenced “New Year’s Prayer” and the beautiful, ethereal “You & I.” The home demos show Buckley’s more experimental, playful side, an aspect of his music presumably encouraged by his pals/heroes The Grifters, whose lo-fi masterpieces inspired Buckley to work in the same studio in Memphis. The closing “Satisfied Mind,” from an earlier live radio broadcast, is a touching elegy to an artistic flame that was extinguished far too soon.
ORIGINAL ROLLING STONE REVIEW
They run through this collection like a string of loosely buried land mines, images and aphorisms with the prescient sting of epitaph: “This way of life is so devised/To snuff out the mind that moves” (“The Sky Is a Landfill”); “I am a railroad track abandoned” (“Opened Once”); “I’m not with you/Not of you” (“I Know We Could Be So Happy Baby [If We Wanted to Be]”). But Jeff Buckley’s death by drowning, a year ago this month in Memphis, was a tragic accident, and the few finished records that he left behind – the 1993 Live at Sin-é EP, the 1994 album Grace – were about finding a passage through darkness, into light. His lyrics and the convulsive operatic dynamics of his singing were thrilling evocations of long black shadows exploding into daybreak.
A restless, demanding spirit, Buckley had an almost pathological aversion to pop convention; he craved both immaculate perfection and naked revelation in his music. Which may explain Buckley’s alleged dissatisfaction with his first stab at recording what was to be his second album, Sketches (For My Sweetheart the Drunk). There is a slight, studio-bound formalism to the ’96 and early ’97 Sketches tracks, produced by Television guitarist Tom Verlaine. “Vancouver,” for all of its medieval-Byrds allure, and the old-school-Prince love letter “Everybody Here Wants You” fall a few yards shy of transcendent.
But there is also explosive garage-rock theater here – the barking vocal rage and twisted-metal guitars in “The Sky Is a Landfill” – and breathtaking change-ups of melody and mood, like “Witches’ Rave,” a jolt of black-magic power pop, and “Opened Once,” with its silken, suspended chords and the shivering enunciation in Buckley’s voice. “You and I” is just Buckley singing in free fall, but his prayers and regrets rebound through the cathedral echo with compelling despair. If Buckley felt the Verlaine material was not definitive, work, it was only a near miss.
Crude and inconclusive, the four-track demos on Disc Two, recorded by Buckley alone in Memphis just before his death, reveal little about his revised plans for that second album. “Murder Suicide Meteor Slave” is deafening, nutty, out of tune-splatter-guitar painting, straight from the id. “Your Flesh Is So Nice” sounds like Pavement’s idea of Sparks covering Kiss. But the flashes of inspiration are blinding: the demonic, scarredguitar ingenuity of “Back in N.Y.C.,” a Genesis (1) cover; the raw fragility of “Jewel Box”; the vulnerability of Buckley’s voice amid the tidal guitars in “I Know We Could Be So Happy Baby [If We Wanted to Be].”
Sketches ends with an odd leap back to 1992 and a live-radio reading of Porter Wagoner’s 1955 country hit “Satisfied Mind.” But Buckley gives a performance of sublime purity and contentment that illuminates the heart and purpose etched deep in the rest of Sketches. This is not the album Buckley intended for release, but it is a record of his best intentions. (RS 787)
~ DAVID FRICKE (May 7, 1998)
All tracks composed by Jeff Buckley; except where indicated
“The Sky Is a Landfill” (Jeff Buckley, Michael Tighe) – 5:09
“Everybody Here Wants You” – 4:46
“Opened Once” – 3:29
“Nightmares by the Sea” – 3:53
“Yard of Blonde Girls” (A. Clark, Lori Kramer, Inger Lorre) – 4:07
“Witches’ Rave” – 4:40
“New Year’s Prayer” – 4:40
“Morning Theft” – 3:39
“Vancouver” (Jeff Buckley, Mick Grondahl, Michael Tighe) – 3:12
“You & I” – 5:39
“Nightmares by the Sea” [Original Mix] – 3:49
“New Year’s Prayer” [Original Mix] – 4:10
“Haven’t You Heard” – 4:07
“I Know We Could Be So Happy Baby (If We Wanted to Be)” – 4:27
“Murder Suicide Meteor Slave” – 5:55
“Back in N.Y.C.” (T.Banks, P.Collins, P.Gabriel, S.Hackett, M.Rutherford) – 7:37
“Demon John” (Jeff Buckley, Michael Tighe) – 5:13
“Your Flesh Is So Nice” – 3:37
“Jewel Box” – 3:37
“Satisfied Mind” (Red Hayes, Jack Rhodes) (recorded 1992.10.11 WFMU) – 6:00