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Grace Under Fire: Jeff Buckley Fans Should Stop Mithering About Leonard Cohen Cover
Alex Denney , December 9th, 2008 11:57

Outraged fans of the late California troubador are hatching a plot to scupper the X Factor winner's bid for #1 - but maybe they should stop mewling like their hero, says Alex Denney

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jeff buckley

Late warbler Jeff Buckley's interpretation of the classic Leonard Cohen track 'Hallelujah' has re-entered the UK charts as angry fans lodge their appeal against the X Factor version of the song, released on December 15th.

As the Quietus reported a couple of weeks back, 'Hallelujah' has been chosen by programme bosses as this year's winner's single - traditionally a shoe-in for the Christmas number one spot - following favourite Diana Vickers' popular rendition of the song earlier in the series.

Predictably this has incensed the conspicuous mourners of the Californian singer-songwriter, whose 'emotive' take on the track helped cement his legend as a troubled icon, despite (or perhaps because) it sounds literally like a cat licking its own balls.

Now these fans are urging like-minded shrinking violets to download Buckley's cover to raise it from its current #43 spot and help scupper the impudent talent show winner's chances of topping the charts.

Jeff Buckley: 'Hallelujah'

Now, quite apart from the fact that this whole protesting in favour of a 'fair' charts is a little like protesting your own death with a biro and a biscuit tin, we'd also do well to remember who wrote the song in the first place.

'Hallelujah' first appeared as a murkily recorded highlight of Leonard Cohen's patchy 1984 album Various Positions, after a painstaking, year-long genesis saw its author banging his head against a wall in his underpants in frustration at not being able to finish the track.

And there it stayed, virtually unremarked upon in the mainstream, until covers by John Cale and Rufus Wainwright appeared on the soundtrack to 2001 animated feature Shrek and opened the floodgates on a wider appreciation of the song. It is Buckley's mid-90s version, however - itself a centrepiece of his only completed solo album, Grace - which continues to find resonance among those that see fit to flatten out its ironies and render it a kind of upper-middlebrow 'Angels' - a secular hymn meaning everything and nothing.

Leonard Cohen: 'Hallelujah'

Listen to the way Buckley impales himself on the lines "I've seen your flag on the marble arch / and love is not a victory march / it's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah", and consider how much it sounds like a cry-wank in a fun house hall of mirrors. Then listen to Cohen’s pithy delivery of the verse and remember a time when men were men and troubadours could be sexy, funny and vulnerable without nailing their splayed psyches to the wall for the admiration of lachrymose twats.

Face it, Jeff Buckley is basically Jim Morrison for a generation of semi-literate, melancholic narcissists looking for the most favourable light from which to display their genteel misery like some rare bird of paradise. At least Morrison got his cock out on a regular basis - all Buckley could do was spray flashy octaves on the unfertile soil of his flailing and resolutely try-hard songs.

Who has the man inspired? Coldplay? Travis? And you don’t see Cohen’s fans come teeming out of the woodwork in juvenile protest that someone will release a version of a song which, due to certain inescapable financial and cultural realities, is bound to sell a lot more copies than the original, do you?

Buckley’s fans can piss and moan ‘til the cows come home. The only victim of this tawdry episode is Cohen himself, and I’m sure those tears will dry a lot quicker as he performs a victory march of his own to deposit a tidy royalty cheque at his local bank.

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Pickles Pickles
Dec 9, 2008 5:05pm

Er, Where exactly are these protesting fans? I thought it was being bought by people who heard it on the BBC iplayer? Maybe Len fans should get over themselves.

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Don Draper
Dec 9, 2008 5:33pm

This is just a lame exercise in stirring up controversy which isn't there, through the sacrificing of a perceived "sacred cow". The musical cognoscenti (AKA a few elitist, misanthrope hacks) seem to have decided that because a lot of the general public were genuinely moved by Jeff Buckley's rendition of a song which had previously not penetrated the mainstream popular conscious, it clearly must be a crock of shit and it's their duty to piss on everyone else's bonfire. Sorry guys, but it smacks of rank snobbery.

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Billy Fantastic
Dec 9, 2008 6:48pm

I am gladdened to see that somebody else feels the same way about the indie Mariah Carey. Heavens, Buckley's mercifully few recordings were dreary. The best version of Hallelujah is the one on the Happy Monday's Rave On EP - different tune, different lyrics, infinitely better vocal performance.

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Dec 9, 2008 10:27pm

From a JB fan - F**k you!

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Fred Zeppelin
Dec 10, 2008 2:07pm

Actually Alex, the John Cale version first appeared in 1991 on a Leonard Cohen tribute album called I'm Your Fan which also featured Pixies, Nick Cave, Fatima Mansions, James and others. I've often suspected that Buckley based his version on Cale's interpretation and not Cohen's original.

I also happen to be of the opinion that Cale's version is the definitive reading; as you rightly mention, Cohen's version is too murky while Buckley's is just a string of overwrought histrionics.

Of course, I would say that because I've never bought into the Buckley myth. Was ever an artist so over-rated? Would he have garnered so much praise without the parental connection? And given that the best tracks on Grace are covers - and one of those an Elkie Brooks songs ferchrissakes! - tells you pretty much all you need to know about him.

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Alex Narkiewicz
Dec 10, 2008 2:33pm

According to research, Jeff Buckley would definitely have been a paedophile if he was still alive.

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Dave Jones
May 16, 2009 8:58am

In reply to Fred Zeppelin:

Shame his cover of the Elkie Brooks hit was not up to standard. Elkie IS the best female rock singer to come from the U.K.

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Jordan Voith
Sep 24, 2009 12:55am

Wow, what an underwhelming article. And I'm not even a JB fan

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Dec 29, 2009 12:34am

Not a JB fan, but I don't think Alex Denney will ever be achieving any kind of fame - what an absolutely crap article. Everybody knows an artists rendition of a cover is their own personal rendition. Why would we want to listen to a cover that sounded like the original? What a silly childish man you are Mr Denney. PS: Apparently Jeff Buckley had a three or four octave voice, which I suppose in itself is a talent. What's your talent Mr Denney? ... oh, yes, it's writing crap isn't it??

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You're Wrong
Oct 5, 2012 9:26am

Jeff buckley was one of the most talented musicians to have ever lived. Whether it was his four octave vocal range or his ridiculous guitar skills, his voice would elicit a sensation none other could. He was also a brilliant songwriter, and could perform a range of styles, he even incorporated waltz rhythm on 'so real'. You my friend are just a bitter soul, not even possessing a shred of the talent Jeff possessed.

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Sep 15, 2014 4:37pm

You are an idiot.
Who has the man inspired?
Does thom yorke sounds familiar?
One of the greatest musicians of all time.

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Nov 7, 2014 12:32pm

Considering Buckley stole this whole shtick-- those parts he didn't steal from Robert Plant, natch-- from JOHN CALE (as others have noted) makes this all the more rich. Buckley version is crap but ooh, it sure sound "pretty" to dipshits. That's not quavering, it's drowning!

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Aug 6, 2016 4:17am

There are some really nasty people here. All musicians learn from one another. I am inclined to listen to people who don't degrade others. This piece is despicable.

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May 13, 2017 1:13am

Alex Denney is a bilious imbecile with the IQ of a broom and zero knowledge or education in music. That such an imbecile may write in newspapers about music is a sign of the bankruptcy of contemporary journalism. It's about as good as the having the falafel guy at the street corner expounding on the latest astrophsyics news.

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