Gold Medal: Grace by Jeff Buckley
The first time I heard this album, I remember totally exhausted by the end. The sheer emotion just takes a toll but in a good way. This is not background music; this is power in sound. In the only complete album in Jeff Buckley’s lifetime, the man went all out. His remarkable range as a singer, arranger and songwriter is put on full display with all the confidence in the world. For example, “Corpus Christi Carol (For Roy)” preceded the song “Eternal Life” on the second half of the album, going from angelic to grungy in a heartbeat. Jeff Buckley’s name always comes up when I think about the most raw talent in a rock musician. Every one knows “Hallelujah” but the title track is what brings down the house for me. Desert island material.
Silver Medal: Roman Candle by Elliott Smith
Like Buckley, Elliott Smith’s music is dangerous. Listening to his music can just turn me to Jell-O so I have to be careful. If I’m not in the mood for Jello-O, no Elliott. But the second late songwriter on this list works in a totally different way than the first. While Buckley uses epic arrangements, on this, his first album, Smith hardly uses anything more than his voice and an acoustic guitar. Not to mention, half the songs are nameless! But like just about everything he touched, the songs on this album are golden. One hardly even notices the poor recording quality or the lack of variety is instrumentation. Each one is a captivating work of art. I just shake my jealous head.
Bronze Medal: Automatic For The People by REM
The most commercially successful album by the great Athenians, AFTP just has the right combination of craftsmanship and classic REM “we don’t give a shit” mentality. It’s pristinely produced, with the help of former Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, and has a more accessible vibe than any of REM’s past work—“Man On The Moon” and “Everybody Hurts” have found themselves on more mix tapes than just about any other songs by this band, save “Losing My Religion.” Still, songs like “Ignoreland” and “Star Me Kitten” show that these boys, led by Michael Stipe, are the same horny rebels that they’ve always been.
Next up, 2002.
Also check out my recent Big Star tribute here.
*Last week's subheading was from Electric Light Orchestra's "Rockaria."