Jeff Buckley Hallelujah

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Jeff Buckley: "Hallelujah"

A cover of a cover of a live version, sure, but Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" owns. To borrow Sasha Frere-Jones' terminology, Buckley's take isn't just "killingly good"; for an entire generation of TV- and film-watching downloaders, the siren-voiced troubadour steals "Hallelujah" from both its original composer, Leonard Cohen (see: Brian Howe's Cohen reissues review), and John Cale, the man whose Shrek-appearing cover most clearly influenced this prayerful, bell-like take. If there are young men in coffeehouses everywhere attempting fluttery voices and quietly dizzying electric guitar accompaniment, this song-- part of a Buckley best-of out May 22-- is to blame. Even so, it owns.

At the recent EMP Pop Conference, Michael Barthel tirelessly analyzed the song's journey from Cohen's overproduced, gospel-backed 1985 curio to the overwhelmingly melancholy 1994 hymn familiar to millions from "The O.C.", "Scrubs", and, ugh, that new Fall Out Boy album. It may be nearly impossible now to separate Buckley's version from its sociocultural baggage, and clearly he simplifies some of the artistic nuances of Cohen's less remarkable original, buying into bathos and the romantic artiste myth. Still, there's something about the song, and indeed Buckley's recording-- cold breath, melodic guitar work, that voice-- which causes it to transcend both performer and composer to become part of a broader pop consciousness. Such is its power that my fiancée and I still fall asleep to it some nights, years after discovering it, but we know we don't "own" it anymore; no one does.

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