Main Index Page General Ratings Page Rock Chronology Page Song Search Page New Additions Message Board


[Work on the page in progress]

Class ?

Main Category: Singer-Songwriters
Also applicable: Folk Rock, Avantgarde
Starting Period: The Psychedelic Years
Also active in: The Artsy/Rootsy Years, The Interim Years


Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Tim Buckley fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Tim Buckley fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

For reading convenience, please open the reader comments section in a parallel browser window.


Postponed until the page is more comprehensive.



Year Of Release: 1971
Overall rating = 12

THE kind of brilliant, mind-opening "vocal cacophony" I'm always willing to appreciate.


Track listing: 1) Come Here Woman; 2) I Woke Up; 3) Monterey; 4) Moulin Rouge; 5) Song To The Siren; 6) Jungle Fire; 7) Starsailor; 8) The Healing Festival; 9) Down By The Borderline.

When Tim Buckley's producers saw this album offered to 'em, they immediately dubbed it "commercial suicide" - the only reason, I guess, that the company went ahead and released it was that Tim, whose commercial reputation had been solidly established by then with his jazz and pop excourses, had already released one financially successful record earlier that year (Blue Afternoon), and there could have been a tiny hope of the public swallowing this 'unhealthy' offering by inertia. It didn't work out - granted, commercial tastes were much more universal and open in 1971 than they are today (a major label releasing something like this in the XXIst century is something entirely unimaginable), but there are always certain limits to whatever the good old public will want to swallow, you know.

And this album is one WILD little thing, let me tell you. When you put it on for the first time, my advice is to get a good pair of headphones, or at least make sure nobody's sticking around ya for a good ten miles or so. I'm not really speaking of the lack of melodies, even if nearly all of the songs musically are typical dissonant avantgarde stuff of the epoch, very much resemblant of Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica period but even more out there at times, because the Magic Band at least played some distinct musical phrases, where you could at times distinguish riffage and soloing, whereas Tim's backing band here just goes absolutely nuts, all over the place. But to hell with the melodies, the most offputting - at first - and the most amazing - soon as you get used to it - thing here, of course, is Tim's "vocal gymnastics", as it has been called previously.

See, normally I hate that kind of crap. But Mr Buckley really works wonders with his vocal cords, wonders that have to be heard to be believed. His range is one thing (he covers everything from falsetto to baritone), but his stutterings, vibratos, operatic flourishes and lord-knows-what's-it-called else simply establishes him as perhaps the best "voice modulator" in centuries. There are some saxes loosely strewn around the album, but often you simply can't distinguish Tim's screaming and yodeling from a first-rate sax - and sometimes, from an electric guitar. It's NUTS. It really has to be heard to be believed.

Plus, after a few listens, the charm of this album finally begins to set in - for me, this works much better than Trout Mask Replica, because essentially Mr Buckley beats Captain Beefheart on all counts, with one exception: there's absolutely no sense of humour in this record. Even so, it's beautiful. Of course, Starsailor was essentially Tim's effort to "be different", to be defiantly ignoring conventional rules of music-making, to 'progress', but it's one of those rare cases where you take a mad gamble and hit the jackpot, or nearly so. As far as "paranoid" albums go (Syd Barrett, Gong, well, Beefheart, I guess), you can't get any creepier, any more impressive than this collection of tunes. Just listen to the title track, for instance, a weird collage of Mellotron and sax cacophony against which Tim overdubs his insane screamings. I can't remember such a shrill, intense level of mental terror even in the most somber Krautrock numbers. I could kick this, and every other song's butt, for being unmelodic and unmemorable, but that would be entirely missing the point.

Besides, it's not entirely true that this record is thoroughly unmelodic. Listen to 'I Woke Up', for instance, and tell me if you don't recognize a normal Broadway style aria - a very screwed up, a tortured, a squealin'-and-squishin' Broadway style aria, but a Broadway style aria all the same. Or, for instance, there's 'Moulin Rouge', a French stylization that sticks out in a strange way, as it's one totally normal and "commercial" two-minute chanson in among a sea of madness and chaos. And stuff like 'Song To The Siren' can also be probably called 'a breath of normal beauty', a very much needed island of normal, if also structureless, pop balladeering among all the dissonance and confusion.

On a few tracks, you could say Tim is actually trying to 'rock' - 'Monterey', for instance, is introduced by a clumsy proto-punkish two-chord riff, and has a far more aggressive attitude to it than anything else. Tim is absolutely vomit-inducing on the track, producing sounds that will twist your guts and tie them up in a series of knots... nails on a chalkboard, knife in a hog's belly, whatever, insert your favourite metaphor here, but through this vocal nightmare comes a strange kind of catharsis. Shit, I suppose I am slowly starting to breed tiny sprouts of S&M inside meself.

I won't discuss any other songs separately, because it's a hard and ungrateful job to do... suffice it to say that the mystical, occasionally meaningful but mostly nonsensic lyrics, written by Tim's sidekick Larry Beckett, aren't really worth paying attention to, and they really aren't necessary. The CD includes them, mainly because without the aid of a prime dose of Johnny Walker it's impossible to make a word out, but I wouldn't recommend relying on them too much. They aren't really bad, though, and do a nice job of adding some more paranoia and insecurity to the general picture. One last warning: you really have to have strong nerves to survive the first listen to the album, but - as banal as it sounds - you'll be richly rewarded by the time it's over, granted you won't be rushed to a mental asylum halfway through. Man. This is some really strong stuff. Almost 13-worthy, if I only had the guts to award a 13 to a record that is SO far out.


Return to the main index page