Those who knew Jeff Buckley insist he did not commit suicide, and that his drowning death in 1997 was purely accidental. What made his death a little harder to believe was the irrefutable darkness of his lyrics and allusions to ending it all. We'll never know if Buckley intentionally followed his singer-songwriter father, Tim, to an early death, but his compelling lyrics and otherworldly voice left fans yearning for a follow-up to his posthumously released Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk (1998). It's questionable whether Mystery White Boy, a live disc recorded mainly in Europe and Australia, will completely satisfy that desire. Many of the 12 cuts here are quite raw -- not unfinished, but at times so loud and ferocious, they sound as if a heavy metal band were backing him. Buckley had shown that harder edge before, but Sketches contains only traces of that feral intensity.
From the first song, "Dream Brother," Buckley establishes a pattern of reaching delicate high notes and shrieking, anger-filled lows. "Mojo Pin" begins with a wordless aria, somewhere between a chant and a moan. When Buckley adds words over menacing music, the song takes on a Doors-like feel. It becomes more fragile as he ruminates, his falsetto climbing before he begins subtly shifting its shape. The effect is almost like trip-hop, until Buckley snaps, "All the welts of your scorn, my love, give me more/Send whips of opinion down my back." It's a stunning lyric, one of many that conveys the magnitude of his lost potential.
That duality is revealed repeatedly in Mystery White Boy, which seems intentionally arranged to highlight Buckley's own foreshadowing of his fate. In "Grace," he sings, "And the rain is falling and I believe my time has come/It reminds me of the pain/I might leave/Behind . . . And I feel them drown my name." Despite its occasional caterwaul, moments of this album are so transcendent, Buckley's name won't be lost to the murky depths anytime soon.