(#511: 17 September 1994, 1 week)
Track listing: O Souverain, Ȯ Juge, Ȯ Père/Amor, Vida De Mi Vida/Pourquoi Me Réveiller/With A Song In My Heart/Granada/Non Ti Scordar Di Me/A Tribute To Hollywood (Medley: My Way/Moon River/Because/Singin’ In The Rain)/Tu, Ca Nun Chiagne/Vesti La Giubba/Nessun Dorma!/Around The World (Medley: America/All I Ask Of You/Funiculì, Funiculà/Sous Les Ponts De Paris/Brazil/Be My Love/Marechiare/Lippen Schweigen/Santa Lucia Luntana/Those Were The Days/Te Quiero Dijiste/Torna a Surriento)/Encores: La Donna Ė Mobile/Libiamo Ne' Lieti Calici (Brindisi)
(Author’s Note: tracks 1, 4 and 8 sung by Carreras, tracks 2, 5 and 9 by Domingo, tracks 3, 6 and 10 by Pavarotti, and both medleys and encores sung by all three)
The 1994 World Cup was hosted by the U.S.A., and despite the relative unpopularity of what is there called just “soccer” in the country, compared with the national games of American football, basketball and baseball, it was, and has remained, financially the most profitable tournament to date. The U.S.A. themselves did credibly well, and Brazil beat Italy in the final on penalties (3-2). What I unfortunately remember most from the tournament is Diana Ross kicking a ball from the penalty spot in the opening ceremony and missing the net entirely (but the goalposts collapsed anyway – the ceremony’s host Oprah Winfrey also fell off the dais).
There was, inevitably, a reunion concert for the 3 Tenors (as they are numerically credited on this record) in the unlikely setting of Dodger Stadium. Zubin Mehta was again on hand to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Despite a very impressive and unexpectedly dark beginning, the concert was less satisfactory than its 1990 predecessor. The individual setpieces sound perfunctory; this must be one of Pavarotti’s least convincing “Nessun Dorma!”s, rushed off far too quickly like a faxed corporate memo. As for the medleys – they are in Hollywood, hence the tribute; and this is the World Cup, thus “Around The World” – Lalo Schifrin assembled and arranged both, and I hope got paid well. So much of this is representative of moneyed musical tourism; what is the point of getting these three distinguished gentlemen to prostitute themselves by essaying “Singin’ In The Rain” or “Those Were The Days”? When the Los Angeles Music Center Opera Chorus turn up behind Carreras intoning the theme to Two-Way Family Favourites, we are effectively placed in OperaDisney World.
Yet the album is worth keeping for the three introductory selections; Pavarotti’s “Réveiller” is soberly grim. Domingo sings zarzuela as though he means it (and if you know the plot of the song’s parent show Maravilla, you probably want to consign it to the rear of your mind). Best, longest and first of all is Carreras’ superlative delivery of the ode from Act II, scene 3 of Massenet’s Le Cid – a tortured yet heartfelt prayer for deliverance and victory which directly inspired Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman,” the second greatest single ever to reach the British top forty (what was/is the greatest? Clue: “O Superman” was not even the best single in the charts of the middle week of October 1981). With its references to what was the helicopter crash which occurred during the 1980 Iranian hostage crisis, Anderson’s piece is a warning that we cannot be delivered solely by technology or by our assumed trust in it (its closing pieta may have been inspired by the legend of the sage brush as related by Jean the juggler during the second act of Massenet’s 1902 opera Le Jongleur De Notre-Dame). Carreras offers us a terrible finality, but refuses to yield any of his dignity or humanity while offering himself to his creator. It is remarkable and transcends any corporate bluescaling.
But what else was going on with the grain of the voice and the need for salvation and deliverance in nineties California?
Most people were caught napping by Grace. Reviews at the time were complimentary but cautious. Too much emphasis was placed on Buckley’s father and this music fell victim to Ziggy Marley Syndrome.
Whereas I saw Jeff Buckley and his band perform, close up, in the tiny Highbury Garage on 1 September 1994 and felt an electricity, possibly sensual in nature, similar to how my ancestors would have felt with, say, Brel; there was always something of the Continental troubadour about his bearing.
And yet, this was someone born in California (Anaheim, Orange County, to be precise) exactly two months before my wife (dream brother, anyone?) and I would not be doing my job if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that some lineage, some connection exists. In 1994 I listened to this album probably hundreds of times on my Walkman, proceeding through various sections of south-west London, and it transcended the stately melancholia of the Chelsea sunrise with uncommon vividity.
Now I listen to it – on the very same and thoroughly intact cassette – and it is as though my wife is singing to me.
Think about it; “Mojo Pin” is about the slowly-dawning realisation that you are in love with someone, about the fear and excitement which accompany that realisation, the fact that this love takes over everything you do and that it thrusts you into a new and more thrilling world – the music evolves impeccably from ambient flow to rhetorical hard rock punctuation and back again; one thinks of the tantric ebb and flow of Pharaoh Sanders at his most concentrated.
“Grace” is about fearing nothing, including death (the telltale tick-tocking of the clock which heralds the final verse), and this bravado pierces the skin of the music with an intensity as frightening as Cobain at his fieriest (Andy Wallace, who mixed Nevermind, largely and logically produces here). The strings of Karl Berger, who once appeared on Escalator Over The Hill (another transported Californian fantasia), reinforce but do not overwhelm the singer’s anti-penitent passions. Yes Cocteaus, of course Nusrah, but Jeff takes his vocal to a place close to Diamanda Galas or Phil Minton’s duende – he sounds as though he is literally about to explode, and is clearly revelling in it (Gary Lucas' seemingly hand-free guitar is key to both songs).
“Last Goodbye” is gentle but determined funk which doesn’t need to underline the F (this might be the sexiest album by a white man since – Greetings From L.A.?). His “Lilac Wine” avoids showbiz bluster and instead becomes a quiet, sorrow-filled meditation – and I am sure the stylistic nods to Freddie Mercury in the song’s second half are not accidental. “So Real” is simply, or complexly, transcendental – few, if any, other musicians of 1994 were as keen to escort us to another, superior universe – and its opening imagery of “We walked around 'til the moon got full like a plate” might be one of the greatest verse-openers there could ever be. It is cleft in twain halfway through by groaning, atonal guitar howls (Michael Tighe plays guitar and co-writes), but Buckley picks up the resulting atoms as though they were the most precious of petals.
His ”Hallelujah” – as opposed to John Cale’s diametrically-opposed “Hallelujah” of three years previously – eventually made number two in Britain as a single over Christmas 2008; in fact it made number two the day after Lena arrived in this country to join me. I will therefore leave detailed analysis of this historic performance to Lena when she arrives at it in the course of Music Sounds Better With Two, but suffice to say here, for now, this is as profound a recitative of the essential and ongoing conflict between the sacred and the profane as “O Superman,” and at points Buckley’s voice sounds like Elvis, just like the performance resembles the Sun Studios “Blue Moon” which a twenty-two-year-old Leonard Cohen would have known quite intimately. Some overhyped ageing punters of the period shrugged and said they’d already gone through this with John Martyn and Nick Drake, but really, if you don’t understand Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah,” can you be said to be fully understanding of “Solid Air” or “Things Behind The Sun”?
“Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” is a wonderfully dynamic song, really a howl about, or against, growing old, and the dreadful fact that its author and singer never got to grow old does not detract from its intrinsic, electric power. Set against that is Britten’s “Corpus Christi Carol,” a roundelay which sounds as though it had been in existence forever, which Buckley interprets as delicately and highly as a five-year-old child (that, again, is a compliment – please refer, as Buckley must undoubtedly have done – and, I’m sure, Richard Thompson also did - to Janet Baker’s interpretation, with Gerald Moore at the piano, on her 1967 album A Pageant Of English Song: 1597-1961).
Then “Eternal Life” incinerates complacent demons with its joyfully seismic fury, giving the album its untrammelled climax. The album ends, in pain and poignancy, with “Dream Brother,” a slowly-escalating, then gently-retreating raga of mourning – there is lyrical overlap with “Corpus Christi Carol” (“There’s a child sleeping in his tomb”), but it is actually a plea, for life and love, directed at his friend Christopher Dowd, singer, keyboard player and occasional trombonist for the band Fishbone, entreating him not to walk out on his pregnant girlfriend. Don’t be like my fucking father, he is singing (heard live, his “Nobody ever came”s had the tendency to become supremely enraged and aggressive). But the song, promising a future its creator wouldn’t live to see, settles down in its bed of newness, and suggests: this is the future, if you would like to save it.
“What does a seraphim in heaven?
It sings, and again, and always,
Music is a divine art.”
(Massenet, Le Jongleur De Notre-Dame, Act II)
The primary purpose of the sage brush was to conceal the Christ-child.