"DESPITE ITS STRANGE time-signatures (‘The Healing Festival’ was in 10/4) and unusual instrumentation (flugelhorn, pipe organ, alto-flute), Starsailor still rocks, in its own singular and unorthodox way, thanks to the internal combustion engine stroked by Lee Underwood's scalding rhythm guitar, John Balkin's lunging and twisting bass, and the elegant frenzy of Maury Baker's drumming. Riding the group's implacable drive, Buckley's abstract expressionist ballet-for-voice is at its most untethered and gaseous. On the solo voice ‘Starsailor’, the singer multiplied himself into an astral choir. Sixteen strands of Buckley's eeriest vocal goo – overdubbed, but amazingly not treated with effects in any way – ooze and extrude, striate and shiver, forming a multi-octave meshwork of rippling filaments and quivering tentacles. It's like you're somehow inside Buckley's body – exploring its labyrinthine architecture of erotic energies and pre-verbal intensities, an inner-spatial honeycomb of bliss and dread, attraction and repulsion.
The only parallels for what he was doing on ‘Starsailor’ – and the most gravity-defying and ectoplasmic vocal manouevres on ‘Jungle Fire’ and ‘Healing Festival’ – are Gyorgi Ligeti's hair-raising choral music on the soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Diamanda Galas' Litanies Of Satan. The Ligeti comparison is all the more astounding given that Buckley had no formal knowledge of music theory, harmony, et al, and had never even taken a single voice lesson.
In rock, only Iggy Pop (the un-human snarls and expectorations of ‘TV Eye’) and Robert Wyatt (the muezzin-wail-meets-scat falsetto altitudes scaled in the final minutes of ‘Sea Song’) have taken the human voice as far as Buckley did on Starsailor. Weirdly, given that the album seemed to represent Buckley's final push to break free of being "a slave to the lyrics", the words were among his best ever – a sort of erotic-mystic Fauvist beat poetry, all "baited moans" and "I love you like a jungle fire". Larry Beckett, back on board, also came up with some triptastic imagery, like the title track's "Though I memorised the slope of water/Oblivion carries me on his shoulder/Beyond the suns I speak and circuits shiver." Starsailor was critically hailed, receiving a five-star review from jazz mag Downbeat and inspiring purple praise galore (Idris Walters described Buckley as a "vagrant in the void" and a "multioctave drifter in the oblivionosphere".) But the record bombed commercially, and the efforts at live translation went down like a cup of cold sick with audiences baffled by Buckley's forays into Dada-style bruitismeor sound poetry – snoring, yodelling, barking. Devastated, Buckley sank into depression, drowning his sorrows with barbiturates, booze, and, when it came his way, heroin.
For a couple of years, he retired from the business, legendarily chauffeuring for Sly Stone and working in the ethnomusicology department of UCLA on the notation of Japanese and Balinese music. (Both these activities may actually be more of Buckley's tall tales.) He did a bit of acting, co-starring with OJ Simpson in a never-released movie called Why?, and writing equally unsuccessful screenplays like Fully Air-Conditioned Inside, the story of a struggling musician." - Simon Reynolds