Buckley gets on top thanks to some squeaky bed springs
Tim Buckley was one of those artists who never really knew where he fitted in. From a five-octave folky to experimental avant-garde vocalist, had he been a saxophonist instead of a singer he would have no doubt garnered the sort of respect the likes of John Coltrane and Sun Ra took for granted. Disheartened by what were considered commercial failures at the time, and with his albums failing to reach out to a wider audience, like any great yet frustrated artist he chose the middle ground.
Listening to it now, Greetings from L.A. is not so much an artistic concession, as a brilliant amalgam between all he’d done and what was possible. Tim himself saw it as a sort of compromise, in other words probably not what he wanted to do. But at the end of the day, a performer has to make a living. And if releasing something of this quality equates to selling out, then Chopin was a charlatan.
From the first few bars of album opener “Move with Me”, you know you’re in for a good time, where a restrained Buckley sings in the pocket, while the band keeps the party vibes going. “Get On Top” is the second best song here, another funky, sweaty workout driven by Buckley’s extended primate vocalisations. And what can be said about “Sweet Surrender”, other than it is perhaps one of the greatest “I’ve cheated on you darling, but please take me back and understand why I did it” songs ever put to tape, with vocals that rise and soar between heartache and forgiveness.
The second side of the LP doesn’t quite match the quality of the first. Although that’s often the way of things, since after a peak there must always be a trough. “Night Hawkin’” is still hot and hormonal but doesn’t quite linger. “Devil Eyes” is funk by numbers, where Tim pleads for his woman to give him some more of that “monkey rub”. “Hong Kong Bar” is the only acoustic number and has a strong groove, arguably the best song on side two. “Make it Right” is a fine finisher, but with its overtly S&M theme, and orchestral embellishments, one wonders whether Buckley was truly attempting to make an artistic statement, or cash in on the swingers movement.
That the album never really took off must have had Tim wondering what more he had to do in order to crack the market, which is strange in a way, because Greetings from L.A. was his most commercially accessible release up to that point. After this he would make two more albums that would sell even less, and subsequently die of a heroin overdose, leaving the world to wonder what might have been.
And while today he is often overshadowed by his more famous (and also deceased) son, Buckley was one of the most unique and naturally gifted singers who ever graced a stage (or studio), and whose legacy deserves serious reappraisal.
By the way, for those who are interested in this period of Tim’s career should also grab a copy of the excellent Honeyman, taken from a live performance broadcast in 1973, and contains a version of “Sweet Surrender” that practically blows the roof off above those who were fortunate enough to be there.