Look at the Fool is held in incredibly low esteem by the majority of Tim Buckley fans. I found an article online that ranked ‘every’ Tim Buckley album that refused to even acknowledge its existence. Dylan going electric is the go-to example of an artist upsetting his fanbase, but compared to Buckley’s “sex funk” period it was pretty tame stuff. Hippies do not like the “sex funk”. (Let’s face it, nobody does.) And it wasn’t as if Buckley was picking up many new fans as he was losing all his old ones because nobody, nobody, was interested in his funky writhings. They still aren’t. Look at the Fool is almost universally despised.
Tell you what though, I flipping well love it.
Sure, I didn’t love it the first time I heard it. I didn’t love it the tenth time I heard it either, or the twentieth, or the thirtieth, but something kept pulling me back. It would be an oversimplification to say that it Look at the Fool is a car crash of a record that you can’t help gawping at, but there was an element of that, I think, to begin with. Which isn’t to say that I want to claim it is some accidentally-so-bad-it-is-good guilty pleasure. No. I genuinely think it is a good record. I love it. I do. But the first time I heard Look at the Fool it was so out of my comfort zone that I had no idea what to do with it. It embarassed me. It kind of made my skin crawl.
This was a long time ago. I was a young kid earning a pretty decent wage assembling car headlamps during a gap year. In theory I was saving money for university but most weeks I spent sixty pounds on records. I (think I) bought Look at the Fool as part of one of those three-cds-for-fifteen pounds deals that HMV were fond of at the time. (It was a good way to flesh out your musical knowledge in the days before streaming, that deal was.) I hated it immediately. It was very much not like Happy Sad, the Tim Buckley album I had bought the week before. That was good. Look at the Fool was, well… Look at the Fool was “sex funk”. Look at the Fool was shit.
What even is “sex funk”? Is it actually a thing? I keep writing “sex funk” but, honestly, I’ve just copied the phrase off Wikipedia. Isn’t all funk, sex funk, at least a little bit? When James Brown shouts, “huH!” he hasn’t stood up too quickly after tying his shoes. That huH! is a sex noise, a thrust or something like that.
I think Buckley’s late albums are labelled as “sex funk” more as a reassurance than an affirmation. It’s a quiet voice saying, “No, honestly, this isn’t just some scrawny white dude losing the plot in the most excruciating way possible, it’s “sex funk”. The way Kraft try to convince you those squares of yellow rubber are cheese by labelling them “American cheese.” They aren’t convincing anybody, not really, but your misgivings are assuaged, if only slightly, if only subconsciously.
So why do I like Look at the Fool now, and why am I suggesting you give it a listen despite knowing that nobody could love it on the first listen? Because it is the sound of a scrawny white dude losing the plot, but a scrawny white dude who knows he has lost the plot and who is going to carry on losing it until he gets to some new, post losing it, place that nobody has been to before. On Sefronia, the album before Look at the Fool, you get the sense that Buckley is holding back somewhat, chucking in a Tom Waits cover to keep the squares happy, that sort of thing. Look at the Fool is the sound of a man saying, “Fuck it. I make sex funk now. May as well go all in.” You can’t ridicule a man who knows he is ridiculous. He is beyond your petty belittlement. He has found enlightenment.
Plus, the guy can really sing.
Trust me, if you can get past the first fifty listens or so, you’ll love Look at the Fool.