Tim Buckley seems to be one of those acts that floats in and out cult favour from time. I think he is out at the moment but I could be wrong.
I've got a few Tim Buckley albums in the pile behind me but I've only ever listened to two, "Happy Sad" (1969) and "Greetings from L.A." (1972)
I bought "Happy Sad" in 1986 purely because it was on the Elektra label. I had no other knowledge of Tim Buckley.
That album proved to be hypnotic.
Tim Buckley is hard to pigeon hole musically because he is a adventurous vocal virtuoso. He started out as a more traditional folk-rock artist, but then incorporated other styles into his songs, including blues, jazz, avant-garde, Latin and funk (on this album). Over each of his nine studio albums he showed some degree of musical divergence.
Wikipedia: "Timothy Charles "Tim" Buckley III (February 14, 1947 – June 29, 1975) was an American singer and musician. His music and style changed considerably through the years; his first album (1966) was mostly folk, but his subsequent albums incorporated jazz, psychedelia, funk, soul, avant-garde and an evolving "voice as instrument" sound. Though he did not find commercial success during his lifetime, Buckley is admired by later generations for his innovation as a musician and vocal ability. He died at the age of 28 from a heroin overdose, leaving behind his sons Taylor and Jeff, the latter of whom later went on to become a musician as well".
Look at the Fool is the ninth and last album by Tim Buckley before his death in 1975.
This album is polarising
The ultra sharp Richie Unterberger had this to say on allmusic "Tim Buckley's final album is a sad, burned-out affair, suffering from weak, poorly conceived material and washed-out soul-rock arrangements. Most troublingly, Buckley's voice — the one asset he could always count on — had itself begun to deteriorate. Here his vocals were distressingly thin, like torn socks that have gone through the laundry cycle one too many times".
And, Richie is a Tim Buckley fan!
Richie says in allmusic's biography of Buckley, "One of the great rock vocalists of the 1960s, Tim Buckley drew from folk, psychedelic rock, and progressive jazz to create a considerable body of adventurous work in his brief lifetime. His multi-octave range was capable of not just astonishing power, but great emotional expressiveness, swooping from sorrowful tenderness to anguished wailing. His restless quest for new territory worked against him commercially: By the time his fans had hooked into his latest album, he was onto something else entirely, both live and in the studio. In this sense he recalled artists such as Miles Davis and David Bowie, who were so eager to look forward and change that they confused and even angered listeners who wanted more stylistic consistency. However, his eclecticism has also ensured a durable fascination with his work that has engendered a growing posthumous cult for his music, often with listeners who were too young (or not around) to appreciate his music while he was active".
It is fair to say that most mainstream critics hate it.
Most Tim Buckley fans think it is an ambitious failure
There have been attempts to resurrect the album from is generally negative press. Hardcore Buckley fans refer o his experimentalism and the fact he had to go this way (eventually) and that this album is part of a progression and, perhaps, a misunderstood masterpiece.
At the time the album got mixed reviews but the passing of time and the general negativity to white funk soul – which is what this album is – haven't helped it.
I don't mind white funk as long as it is white funk and not white guys trying to beat the black guys at something they never can. White funk is therefore elements of black funk with a white sensibility attached … a quirkiness and the drawing in of external non-black musical influences.
Buckley does that here. There are elements of Latin, and psych with some typically quirky (read obscure and lyrical) lyrics.
Despite the fact that Buckley wrote the words and music none of that is greatly relevant on an album like this. This album and the genre of funk soul (generally) is about creating a vibe and usually a vibe you can dance to. The words don't matter as much because the music is what counts. So, Buckley is limited by the musical form he is trying to emulate. Sure he adds bits and pieces to this but he ultimately has to rely, not on his voice, not on his lyrics but on those familiar beats.
And that is the biggest problem. Buckley's greatest strength is his expressive voice and I'm not sure it works with this form of music. Recording techniques aside his voice seems to drop in and out from it's up front position and, perhaps, is a little lost in the music. Elvis Presley, a different but equally virtuosic vocalist tackled white funk soul when he did a session at Stax Studios in 1973* and I think suffered some of the same problems Buckley has here. The delivery is in the music and vocalists will suffer. Elvis also recorded more traditional type Elvis songs along with the white funk and they work a lot better. Buckley doesn't do that.
Having said that, Buckley (and to a lesser extent Elvis on his similar material) sings the hell out of some of these white funk songs and his technique and virtuosity creates some amazing performances. It's like his voice (which is tortured and pained and only occasionally happy) is fighting against the music rather than being a part of it as they should be, probably. Whether that is good or bad I don't know but it is striking and it hits you viscerally.
The very (amazing) black backing vocalists are a blessing and a curse. They make the album more commercial (and I think that is a bad thing here – it makes the music a little familiar) but they also help lift the music and perhaps create a bridge to connect Buckley's voice to the music.
I should mention that Buckley's "Greetings from L.A."(1972) also has some funk in it but Buckley isn't as single minded there.
Ultimately, despite what Richie Unterberger says (and I have regard for him) this album isn't a bad album. It perhaps, and I can't comment as I haven't heard all of his work, isn't as good as other Buckley albums but it it's much better (and much more ambitious) than a lot of white funk and white disco coming out at the time (think some of the bad mid to late 70s Rod Stewart albums) ….and a few of those tracks are, err amazing.
It is pointless to refer to the publics appreciation of the album …the public had very little interest in Tim Buckley especially by this stage
The cover artwork is not the best … no one disagrees on that.
All tracks written by Tim Buckley unless noted.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Look at the Fool – this starts as a slow funk and then becomes quite dramatic and a touch bombastic (and there are a couple of silly sounding notes) but, ultimately, the song is strangely memorable as Buckley groans, sings and yelps his way across the song backed by angelic backing vocalists.
- Bring It On Up – a very black sounding song title and a full on funky sound
- Helpless – quite a groove with the backing vocalists in fine form
- Freeway Blues – (Larry Beckett/Buckley) – Larry Beckett is a poet and songwriter. Buckley and Beckett started writing together in the mid-1960s, when both were members of Southern California group The Bohemians. Evocative and gritty funk
- Tijuana Moon – (Larry Beckett/Buckley) – strange, really strange and very, very compelling. Like a Broadway show about funky bluesman lost in the Caribbean.
- Ain't It Peculiar – wow – great funk
- Who Could Deny You – Blood Sweat and Tears territory here but without the hooks in the horns.
- Mexicali Voodoo – I don't know what's going on here. I don't think anyone was. Everyone is doing their on thing but it holds together.
- Down in the Street – a "socially relevant" lyric and some hard funk.
- Wanda Lu – totally different to the rest of the album and , perhaps, the best song on the album. That's not because it's different but rather because it's in a style of music I like. Garage, like Sam the Sham etc. Great fun.
I like Buckley and the more I listen to this album the more it grows on me. Maybe it is a masterpiece? …. I'm keeping it.
Nothing no where
Ain't It Peculiar
- The album is produced by Buckley's guitarist, Joe Falsia.
- The backing vocalists are Venetta Fields, Clydie King, Sherlie Matthews and are legendary …
- Venetta Fields lives on the Gold Coast.
*You can hear those Elvis tracks indispersed over the "Raised on Rock" (1973), "Good Times" (1974), and "Promised Land" (1975) albums or collected on the 3 CD set – Elvis at Stax (2013)