Sketches: For My Sweetheart the Drunk, Jeff Buckley’s first posthumous release following his drowning in 1997, is a sad reminder of the singer’s talent and unrealized potential. The album opens with “The Sky Is a Landfill,” an accomplished political rocker (he moans “Don’t suck the milk of the flaccid Bill K. Public’s empty promise”). The track is a fierce juxtaposition to the album’s lead single, “Everybody Here Wants You,” a song as sexy as any old Prince tune. Buckley’s falsetto even sounds uncannily like the purple pop star: “Twenty-nine pearls in your kiss, a singing smile/Coffee smell and lilac skin, your flame in me.” The beauty continues on “Nightmares By the Sea” and “Opened Once,” a slow and languid ballad. Both tracks make eerie reference to water and death: “I’ve loved so many times and I’ve drowned them all…Stay with me under these waves tonight.” (A second disc of completely superfluous demo tracks contains an alternate, untouched version of “Nightmares” which will likely sound no different to the average listener).
Sketches has a pop sensibility that was only hinted at on his debut. Tracks like “Yard of Blonde Girls” and “Witches’ Rave” are ripe with undeniably catchy hooks, their slick production and crunchy guitars reminiscent of R.E.M. “New Year’s Prayer” is a call for the world to free themselves from remorse: “Stand absolved behind your electric chair, dancing.” Buckley chants “Feel no shame for what you are” repeatedly over a hypnotic rhythm section and mellotron. It seems to be an unexpected outcry for mass-consciousness and spirituality. “Morning Theft” at once sounds like another sad love song, but is actually more about a lost female companion. These blurry lines between friends and lovers are enough to solicit questions about Buckley’s equivocal use of words (“Beware the bottled thoughts of angry young men/Secret compartments hide all of the skeletons”), or the ambiguity of lines like “I loved this sweet guy.” “You and I” is a chilling ending to what was to be Buckley’s sophomore effort. With minimal instrumentation, Buckley’s voice echoes strangely appropriate fear and sorrow: “As the calm below that poisoned river wild/You and I.” On another track, he sings, “I am a railroad track abandoned/With the sunset forgetting I ever happened.” Sketches exists to make sure that never happens.