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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

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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