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Leonard Cohen

  • Songs Of Leonard Cohen
  • Songs From A Room
  • Songs Of Love And Hate
  • New Skin For The Old Ceremony
  • Death Of A Ladies Man
  • Recent Songs
  • Various Positions
  • I'm Your Man
  • The Future
  • Ten New Songs
  • Dear Heather
  • Old Ideas

  • Album Reviews |

    Leonard Cohen

    Songs Of Leonard Cohen 9 ( 1968 )
    Suzanne / Master Song / Winter Lady / The Stranger Song / Sisters of Mercy / So Long, Marianne / Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye / Stories of the Street / Teachers / One of Us Cannot Be Wrong

    The rock scene of 1967 was just starting to grasp that rock lyrics probably weren't the new poetry as Bob Dylan started to let go of his mystique and inherited throne. Leonard first dabbled with both poetry and acoustic and classical guitar. He was in a band, which seems almost impossible to comprehend now what with, and let's get this out of the way, his reputation for 'miserable' music. For those disposed to the black eyed dog, Leonard is almost the very highest form of companionship, recognition and comfort one can get. For those who haven't experienced the full range of human emotions, from happy and deluded through to miserable and realistic, Leonard remains a dour puzzle that's no fun in even trying to put together.

    Leonard approaches songwriting with a poets ear, the songs come from his poetry. Some make it or some don't, depending on the rhythm of the words. The music develops from the rhythm and flow of his poetic prose. His singing voice is measured, deep, thoughtful and almost a whisper away from being a speaking voice. Sexuality, drink and drugs have been in his life and his words contain much black humour. 'Songs Of Leonard Cohen' was released by Columbia Records after Leonard had published several books to little financial reward. 'Suzanne' had already been covered by Judy Collins, encouragement enough he could make a living in his new chosen field of the singer-songwriter. 'Suzanne' opens the set with its round and round perfect circle rhythm, acoustic, strings and Leonard's words. The flow and feel of the words, tender and poetic and mention of tea and oranges are always evocative and it's not bad to open your debut with an all time classic really, is it?

    'Master Song' follows, some tale either about the holy trinity or a love triangle or both. If you wonder what some of the strange sounds accompanying Leonard are, that will be the producer who wanted to cover the album in rock instrumention aka 'Blonde On Blonde' whilst Cohen only wanted his acoustic and vocals. I would like to say a compromise was reached but, it wasn't. The end result is far closer to Leonard's vision than producer John Simon. The final mix was Cohen's but some of Simon's accompaniments couldn't be removed due to the 4 track master recording tape. The overall result across the album is to lend welcome distraction on occasions to Leonard's voice and guitar, the additional instrumentation ends up quite sparse apart from 'So Long Marianne' but the journey of that tune is now impossible to imagine without the music and the attempt to flesh out Leonard's often thin arrangements. Not that Simon's choice of instruments is always wise, the utterly lovely 'Sisters Of Mercy' seems to have some kind of workman digging the road going on through the middle part of the song for no apparent reason.

    'So Long Marianne' marks the first use of a bass guitar on the entire album. I adore the little country fiddle in the background. 'Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye' again highlights the natural poetic soul of Leonard Cohen, a feel akin to floating gently down a stream bathed in sunlight. 'One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong' is hauntingly romantic doom, black humour and love and the anguished screaming/la-la-la-ing at the end quietly echoing in the distance is a touch of inspiration. This is a song that marks the arrival of a fully formed talent, those years spent playing acoustic then writing poetry coming together on an album that spent a year and a half in the UK album charts although only managing number eighty three for a week in the USA.

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    Songs From A Room 8 ( 1969 )
    Bird on the Wire / Story of Isaac / A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes / The Partisan / Seems So Long Ago, Nancy / The Old Revolution / The Butcher / You Know Who I Am / Lady Midnight / Tonight Will Be Fine

    For Cohen's second album he turned to Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Simon And Garfunkel producer Bob Johnson, an experienced hand who would also be sympathetic to, and understanding of, Cohen's music. 'Songs From A Room' follows the template set down by 'Songs Of Leonard Cohen', latin inspired acoustic guitar patterns from Leonard Cohen, never an accomplished musician but he could create fascinating patterns and almost driving rhythms at times. 'Bird On A Wire' is this albums 'Suzanne' in terms of cover versions spawned and living through the ages as a modern classic. Leonard claims it was written as a country song, here Johnson's strings coat Cohen's often frail vocals well. 'Story Of Issac' tries to follow on from 'Master Song' and 'A Bunch Of Lonesome Heroes' slightly clumsily tried to follow on from 'So Long Marianne'. Nothing wrong with this approach at all as such, it was fairly common for the time but perhaps indicates a slight lack of musical imagination from Cohen. The lyrics meanwhile are as finely honed as ever and once we reach 'The Partisan' we do get something new, and wonderfully so. French folk song 'The Partisan' is given the Leonard Cohen treatment, a finely picked acoustic pattern, haunting matter of fact vocals and heavenly female harmony vocals. Mixing English and French lyrics also works and the story itself is worth listening to. Mighty stuff. 'Seems So Long Ago' wraps up the first half of the album in serious fashion, a word for Bob Johnsons use of echo here which really does add a welcome dimension to Cohen's vocal.

    The second half of 'Songs From A Room' quite frankly struggles to match the quality of the first half which is on a part with 'Songs Of Leonard Cohen'. 'The Old Revolution' has qualities, chief among them lyrically yet the melody seems underdeveloped. 'You Know Who I Am' is a strong composition with always fascinating lyrics. The brace of 'Lady Midnight' and 'Tonight Will Be Fine' end the record on a slightly more upbeat note in terms of the pace of the music being played. 'Tonight Will Be Fine' in particular with its happy whistling section is one of the, yes, most joyous most in the Cohen catalogue.

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    Songs Of Love And Hate 8 ( 1971 )
    Avalanche / Last Year's Man / Dress Rehearsal Rag / Diamonds in the Mine / Love Calls You by Your Name / Famous Blue Raincoat / Sing Another Song, Boys / Joan of Arc

    Some of the worst cover art of all time for this one, a stark black background with the title spelt out in large white writing across the majority of the sleeve leaving Leonard Cohen's face to 'decorate' the bottom right hand corner. It doesn't exactly scream out 'buy me'. The album itself is also quite a challenge, an eight track concept album with a couple of familiar Cohen classics alongside a few more challenging pieces stretching out over five to six minutes running time. If you don't like 'Dress Rehersal Rag' or 'Sing Another Song Boys' that's thirteen minutes of your life you won't get back. Yet, these two songs do play important parts in the whole. 'Songs Of Love And Hate' does what it says on the tin for the most part and represents a cohesive structure for the first time arguably in Leonard Cohen's career.

    'Last Years Man' alone makes this an essential purchase, six minutes of personal Cohen reflection. He's working at his art, he's musing about a former lover and all of this is wrapped in some of his finest lyrics, religion infused and put together in such a way that the personal becomes an oblique puzzle for a listener trying to put it all together. It's a clever way of writing something so deeply personal. Like the album opener 'Avalanche' Cohen's guitar at times seem to rise with anger, underlining the emotion in the song. The sweetness present at times during his first two records has gone. 'Avalanche' is a dark way to open any album, a bitter set of words no doubt directed at a former lover but the song also contains a fair amount of self-loathing as well as 'directed' hate.

    'Dress Rehersal Rag' fits perfectly within the concept of love and hate yet dates back to 1966 and was first recorded by Cohen for 'Songs From A Room'. This new version contains the same stabbing, accusing and angry acoustic guitar as 'Avalanche'. 'Diamonds In The Mine' is a Cohen take on country music, well, the album was recorded in Nashville and Cohen seems to like some country music. It's a humorous song that lends the album some needed levity and fun. Well, almost, you still have lyrics about broken limbs and so forth.

    'Sing Another Song Boys' is the weak link, six minutes recorded live at 1970's 'Isle Of Wight Festival. Cohen sings 'grown old and bitter' which is the part the entire song hangs around. Sonically, the track inveitably sticks out and breaks the carefully created mood of the album thus far. 'Love Calls You By Your Name' is a quality dark Cohen love song, leaving two Cohen masterpieces 'Famous Blue Raincoat' and 'Joan Of Arc'. The former has female harmonies and a very european feel, the much covered 'Famous Blue Raincoat', like 'Sing Another Song, Boys' sonically stands out and seems to come from another place. Thankfully unlike 'Sing Another Song, Boys' this other place is altogether wonderful. Leonard sings deeper than ever before in a world weary voice full of resigned observation only lightened when singing of Jane and her lock of hair. For those that say Cohen cannot sing and get such things confused with simply not liking his voice, 'Famous Blue Raincoat' is absolute proof Cohen could be a great singer. The emotions and the inflections, the rising and falling, the rose in the teeth.

    'Songs Of Love And Hate' is never an easy listen, the darkness and the overall tone ensure it's an album to play during particular times and places. Yet, this contains some of Cohen's best work, his best poetry. 'Diamonds In The Mine' and 'Sing Another Song, Boys' aren't classics, at least one song dates back to 1966 so you start to think again about the lyrics of 'Last Years Man'. It would be three years until Cohen again put out an album of new music, yet despite the mixed origins of the material here, it's a masterfully disguised mixture and, apart from some strings and harmony vocals here and there, this record lies truest to the Cohen ideal of acoustic, voice and poetry.

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    New Skin For The Old Ceremony 7 ( 1974 )
    Is This What You Wanted / Chelsea Hotel #2 / Lover Lover Lover / Field Commander Cohen / Why Don't You Try / There Is a War / A Singer Must Die / I Tried to Leave You / Who by Fire / Take This Longing / Leaving Green Sleeves

    Drums, bass, violas, banjos and overall percussion ensures this is arguably Cohen's most musically rounded album so far. Cohen would later regret his indiscretion that 'Chelsea Hotel No 2' was about a liason with Janis Joplin yet knowing that takes nothing away from the majesty of the composition, arguably the finest song of the eleven contained on this album and, one of the few that would make the lineups of the first three albums.

    "You told me again you prefer handsome men but for me you would make an exception"

    This is a different kind of Leonard Cohen album, one where the musical arrangements and, at times more approachable, lyrical approach invites a listener more warmly in, there's a wood-fire buring and a half finished bottle of red wine on the table. 'Lover, Lover, Lover' was turned into a hit single by Echo and the Bunnymen frontman Ian McCulloch in the early nineties in the UK. The 'lover, lover, lover come back to me' refrain an actual chorus, something not many Cohen tunes could be said to have. Fans of the first three folk-cohen albums could be unsettled with album opener 'Is This What You Wanted' which features a full band backup and a groove vaguely approaching funk. Doesn't fit with the gloom and poetic ladies man folk singer image Cohen had carefully created. Perhaps by now he was growing tired of this portrayal?

    'New Skin For Old Ceremony' is Cohen's most diverse set of songs but, was also easily the least consistent in terms of quality he had released. Three years had passed since 'Songs Of Love And Hate' and another three would pass until his next set of songs. Writers block? Possibly, but also the realisation he couldn't go through the entire decade writing the same sort of songs set in the same sort of style that he did in the Sixties. 'This Is A War', 'I Tried To Leave You' and 'Why Don't You Try' and 'Leaving Greensleeves' never register in my mind after they've finished playing, a good third of the album. Joining 'Chelsea Hotel' and 'Lover, Lover, Lover' in the 'good' category though we have 'A Singer Must Die', 'Who By Fire' and 'Take This Longing' coincidentally or not all actually match his early singer/songwriter 'Songs From A Room' style far more than the (needed) attempts at experimentation elsewhere.

    "I'm sorry for smudging the air with my song"

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    Death Of A Ladies Man 6 ( 1977 )
    True Love Leaves No Traces / Iodine / Paper Thin Hotel / Memories / I Left a Woman Waiting / Don't Go Home with Your Hard-On / Fingerprints / Death of a Ladies' Man

    Warner Brothers were on Phil Spector's back after giving him a huge advance and seeing no product produced in return. This collaboration with Leonard Cohen seems an unlikely one, given Phil's predeliction for using big voiced singers and, Phil apparently held Leonard captive at an evening he had organised after they had earlier met at a Zen retreat. Both drank late into the night and all of the songs were written in the space of two weeks. Generally speaking, Cohen can spend as long as two years on a set of lyrics alone, so this is highly unusual for the artist. Warner Brothers never promoted the LP and eventually Cohen's Columbia Records gave it a release in Europe where Cohen's fanbase had always been more numerous than his American one. The vocals here by Cohen are hidden by Spector's trademark Wall Of Sound, over 30 musicians have been used. It's not quite as simple as that however, as the vocals Phil used were largely guide vocals only, works in progress as Cohen saw it. Phil ended up producing, recording and mixing the album with Cohen locked out of the studio. Cohen complained that he had been held at gunpoint by Spector during the recording sessions, and later complained he wished the album would never see the light of day.

    I'm possibly a rare person in that I'm a fan of both Spector and Cohen. Giving the fact the lyrics were put together in two weeks, Cohen does a fine job in places, even if the quality of his writing overall is far from the quality displayed during his first three and a bit albums. Spector used his regular musicians that had worked with him from the Sixties onwards, quality musicians that ultimately are let down by the mix, this is a very muddy sounding record even by Spector's standards. A couple of mis-steps seem inevitable with this strange coupling of Spector and Leonard Cohen and 'Fingerprints' is certainly one of them. I assume this corny, comedic vehicle complete with proper country fiddle is not meant to be taken seriously, the production makes this sound like it was recorded in a basement in 1957, some feat even if completely unintended. 'Don't Go Home With Your Hard-On' you could also say is funny, depending on your sense of humour, I generally find the lyrics to be rather blunt and lacking any of the sublty of Cohen's better work.

    I enjoy both of the first two songs, both seem connected to Cohen's previous work and, although both feature many Spector trademarks (the heavy echo during 'Iodine' for instance), the quality of the compositions shine through. 'Memories' is a personal favourite of Cohen's and the only song here he would revist during live performances. It seems to come from a very Spector place, nostalgia for the 50's yet with a better recorded Cohen vocal could have been superb. Some Cohen fans will baulk at this Spector Las Vegas musical style, complete with backing singers, but I love the saxes, the swinging rhythm and Cohen's own, imperfect yet impassioned vocal. The epic nine minute title track is also worthy of mention, although some of Cohen's rhymes are pretty much awful, star and far, guessed and unimpressed and worst of all spoon and moon and dance coupled with moustache. Yeah, work that one out. For fans of both George Harrison and Phil Spector, the song is a cousin of something like 'Isn't It A Pity. 'Isn't It A Pity' was released in 1970 and therein lies the main problem with Leonard Cohen's fifth solo LP. Spector hadn't moved forwards in time and wished the Sixties and Fifties had never ended, and Leonard seem divorced both emotionally and physically from his own album.

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    Recent Songs 5 ( 1979 )
    The Guests / Humbled in Love / The Window / Came So Far for Beauty / The Lost Canadian / The Traitor / Our Lady of Solitude / The Gypsy's Wife / The Smokey Life / Ballad of the Absent Mare

    I find it interesting to view Cohen's album chart performance in the UK leading to this, the first album of his not to chart at all in the UK and many parts of Europe.

    Songs Of Leonard Cohen peaked at 10, 70 weeks in the charts
    Songs From A Room peaked at number 2, 25 weeks in the charts
    Songs Of Love And Hate peaked at number 4, 18 weeks in the charts.
    New Skin For The Old Ceremony peaked at number 24, 3 weeks in the charts
    Death Of A Ladies' Man peaked at number 35, 5 weeks in the charts

    Cohen himself co-produces this set of songs yet problems still remain despite a superficial return to his gypsy folk roots. Again, over 30 musicians are credited although you wouldn't guess so from the largely stripped down sound. Cohen again plays no instrumentation himself, which of course was also the case with the Phil Spector produced orgy that was 'Death Of A Ladies Man'. The opening track 'The Guests' induces a cautious optimism in a listener that Cohen had indeed got 'Recent Songs' right - this is a folky tune fitting in with the earlier Cohen songs, although Cohen's own trademark acoustic guitar flourishes are entirely absent, sadly. Things quickly go astray when the 'Humbled In Love' arrives sounding very MOR and although a minute and a half shorter than the six minute plus 'The Guests' - sounds twice as long due to the lethargic pace. 'The Window' lyrically is nice and I like the violin. A sequence of lyrics such as below at least manages to remind you of why Cohen's writing was so highly regarded in the first place.

    Why do you stand by the window
    Abandoned to beauty and pride
    The thorn of the night in your bosom
    The spear of the age in your side

    The music doesn't follow the rhythm of the words, perhaps again because Cohen isn't performing his own music. 'I Came So Far For Beauty' isn't a song, it's a poem and twenty minutes in, 'Recent Songs' lacks any rythm beyond a slowly dying heart. 'The Lost Canadian' then comedically contains a Mariachi band, at least it's a giggle, trying to be generous to it. 'The Traitor' would dare I say it work better with just Leonard, acoustic and voice, nice as though the fiddle is, it's pure embellishment and doesn't feel like it's part and parcel of the heart of the song. The album continues at a funeral pace, easily the most frustrating musical listen of Leonard Cohen's career. 'Death Of A Ladies Man' may have been controversial but at least it was interesting. 'Recent Songs' is utterly forgettable because the melodies simply don't shine.

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    Various Positions 8 ( 1984 )
    Dance Me to the End of Love / Coming Back to You / The Law / Night Comes On / Hallelujah / The Captain / Hunter's Lullaby / Heart with No Companion / If It Be Your Will

    If Recent Songs barely hinted at the deepening of Cohen's vocal chords, four years after 'Recent Songs' and seven since 'Death Of A Ladies Man' then by the time of 'Various Positions' there was no escaping the fact. Jennifer Warnes was retained from 'Recent Songs' and co-credited with lead vocals, as if to draw into even sharper relief this newly developed vocal style of Leonard's. Musically, Leonard had taken to cheap 80s synthesizers. Over what seems a selection of very simple pre-programmed beats, several of 'Various Positions' musical tracks are laid down. Still, at least this was a return to Leonard actively developing his own music through playing an instrument himself. His lack of virtuosity had never been a problem on the guitar, quite the opposite, it lent his songs a simple, timeless quality. Whereas some will groan and growl over the very eighties sounds the synths produce, he didn't go the way of many Sixties survivors in terms of utilising other peoples sounds and record producers. Again co-producing this set himself and moving ever more towards a french-european feel, 'Various Positions' emerges as a strong move into brighter creative directions. It only charted at number fifty two in UK but did manage to stick around for six weeks and reverse his commercial slide. His US label 'Columbia' decided against even releasing the album in America, citing Leonard's declining popularity, but also no doubt concerned over his latest musical direction.

    If a song like 'Suzanne' would have featured in every single concert Leonard has played since 1967, 'Dance Me To The End Of Love' has opened every single Leonard concert since it appeared on 'Various Positions'. The song is based around a simplistic pre-programmed drum pattern, the female backing lends something of an exciting quality to proceedings and the lyrics are as fine as ever. As a song, it sounds far more lively and finely constructed than anything he'd released for a decade. A typical love song follows before we get to 'The Law', a song that single handedly moves Cohen from 11pm under the pillows to 2am in the dark, and wondering where on earth your life is going. You imagine a motorway and lights and coming back from somwhere, after experiencing a glimpse of life through a slit in a blinded window. 'Hallelujah' has become Cohen's most profitable song ever, not bad for a tune his US label refused to even release. 'If It Be Your Will' is a timeless Cohen lullaby and pretty much sums up 'Various Positions', an album with rather flat production but quality, timeless songs. It also contains his finest ever excursion into country music, 'Heart With No Companion'.

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    I'm Your Man 8 ( 1988 )
    First We Take Manhattan / Ain't No Cure for Love / Everybody Knows / I'm Your Man / Take This Waltz / Jazz Police / I Can't Forget / Tower of Song

    Jennifer Warnes released a popular album of Cohen cover songs and Cohen himself felt it increasingly unlikely that his voice singing his own songs would be accepted, so used his female backing singers to ever greater effect. The use of programmed keyboards increased also, in 1988, the year techno went overground. If the 2nd summer of love made the headlines in the UK, Cohen's 'I'm Your Man' documentary made by BBC2, a renewed look at a revered singer songwriter. That was the first I saw of him, even if the first two tracks here merely follow the first two tracks on 'Various Positions'. Yet, something else is happening, 'First We Take Manhatten' sounds modern in a way a Dylan or a George Harrison simply couldn't and 'Ain't No Cure For Love' is a seemingly simple little love song, trite even, yet when married to Cohen's voice and words, becomes something else entirely. Some of the songs here, nearly uptempo all or at least measured, seem to try too hard. 'Everybody Knows', 'I'm Your Man' and 'First We Take Manhatten' have finely honed and often funny lyrical passages not always matched by the quality of the music. 'Take This Waltz' is a masterpiece, a lyric adapated from a Lorca poem, a huge Cohen influence. Heartbreaking is the word and if 'Jazz Police' wasn't on the album, you could make a fair fist of an argument at declaring it one of his very best.

    If a good song matches good music and good lyrics in equal measure, without either overshadowing the other, then 'I Can't Forget' is Leonard Cohen's finest ever song. It's certainly his most musical and tuneful, the playing is subtle and even the vocal melody ever so tuneful. "I stumbled out of bed, ready for the struggle, I smoke a cigarette and tightened up my gut..." it's simply fantastic. 'Tower Of Song' is one of those things that if didn't exist you would have to invent it. Over 3 or 4 bass notes, Leonard writes the songwriters ode to songwriting and artistic respect. He mentions Hank Williams and darn it, didn't I always say he had a sneeky respect for country music? All in all, 'I'm Your Man' is confident, contains some of his most memorable tunes and also contain's 'I Can't Forget', not a song very often covered or talked about but, perhaps his finest ever.

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    The Future 8 ( 1992 )
    The Future / Waiting for the Miracle / Be for Real / Closing Time / Anthem / Democracy / Light as the Breeze / Always / Tacoma Trailer

    Deeply polished production values can't detract from the quality of the songs on display here, although may take some getting used to. Revisiting the back catalogue of Leonard Cohen for putting together this page has been fascinating and fun, but I've been stalled on gathering thoughts for a review for 'The Future'. The couple of cover versions are abberations of sorts, the instrumental too, what use an instrumental on a Leonard Cohen album? But, repeated listens reveal 'The Future' to actually work as one of his strongest pieces of poetry and song. Charting at number 36 in the UK, the album continued his commercial rennaissance, upon which achieving, he retreated into a buddhist retreat for seven years. I'm sure it was good for his soul, if not good for his continuing career, but then using the word career in connection with Leonard Cohen doesn't quite sit right. He never sold any huge quantities of records but had several million dollars in his pension fund, which a dodgy accountant some years later would pilfer. Back to the matter in question, though. 'The Future' has political lyrics, runs at a pace and is really quite a thrilling track to open this collection. 'Waiting For The Miracle' is a song that runs to seven or so minutes and only contains about 7 musical notes, forever repeated. Cohen sings softly, it's a personal reflection and really rather addictive, hypnotic and lovely.

    Allmusic.com reveals about 50 musicians, engineers, singers etc contributed to this album. Only 'Be For Real' is shorter than five minutes in length and you do think sometimes 9 songs running to an hour in length is a little flabby. I notice this when 'The Anthem' comes along, not really a musical piece, rather an existential drone. 'Closing Time' on the otherhand contains some clever bendy musical sounds, 'Demoncracy' suprises by being enjoyable enough to not sound seven minutes long, 'Always' is an excruiacting eight minutes long, leaving two lesser pieces to discuss. 'Tacoma Trailer' is pure filler, a pretty instrumental that's not bad to listen to, yet utterly pointless. 'Light As The Breeze' fascinates me in terms of production. This sounds like Leonard alone at the synthesizer. It points the way forward to the albums that would follow 'The Future' in that the instrumentation is utterly stripped back. Voice and instrument, as you once were. Also something of a drone is 'Light As A Breeze' yet I get stuck repeatedly in this deeply voiced, almost spoken lyrical mantra.

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    Ten New Songs 6 ( 2001 )
    In My Secret Life / A Thousand Kisses Deep / That Don't Make It Junk / Here It Is / Love Itself / By the Rivers Dark / Alexandra Leaving / You Have Loved Enough / Boogie Street / The Land of Plenty

    Sharon Robinson is credited as producer, arranger, performer and co-writer on every song here, yet Cohen's words and influence over his own music remain as strong as ever. Robinson had previously worked with Cohen, 'Various Positions' onwards and served as his link to the world of music following his buddhist retreat. Think 'Waiting For The Miracle' as a template for this entire album, soft and delicate, hypnotic and repeating whilst Leonard whispers and paints his words and baritone over everything she has created, making it his. Only four tracks really shine though and the album is frustratingly one dimensional in tone and feel. Some of the songs barely register as songs, they go nowhere musically. Robison co-penned the majestic 'Waiting For The Miracle' but a whole album of such simple backing tracks ends up leaving a listener regarding 'Ten New Songs' as overly polite and resembling the anti heavy metal. You kind of want to insert a Motorhead song into the middle of the running order for light-relief.

    We have a great start, fifteen minutes of quality Cohen material, especially 'A Thousand Kisses Deep'. Cohen says he's 'back on boogie street' and the lyrics mention him slipping into a masterpiece. It's on a par with anything he's written and the simple melodies and accompianment suit him here. His voice, deeper than ever, a middle section with quiet and sweet guitar. 'Here It Is' is a late night driving song if it's pitch black, cold and the middle of winter. You've been on an incredibly emotional journey, possibly a big family reunion. It says more about me than you, 'you're incredible sickness and everyone dies... hello my love and my love goodbye'. Classic Cohen in many respects. The only other song of note arrives with 'Boogie Street', a new live favourite. Soul vocals open, not Leonard's vocals. He gives more and more of his vocals away these days to other singers. Sharon co-sings almost every single phrase on the album, a second voice in the distance. A late night jazz feel but overall 'Ten New Songs' sinks and fades in the furthest corner of the eye. It's half genuine Leonard Cohen and half a tribute album.

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    Dear Heather 6 ( 2004 )
    Go No More A-Roving / Because Of / The Letters / Undertow / Morning Glory / On That Day / Villanelle for Our Time / There for You / Dear Heather / Nightingale / To a Teacher / The Faith / Tennessee Waltz

    Sharon Robinson co-writes a couple of songs and co-produces alongside Cohen, Leanne Ungar and Anjani Thomas. One song 'The Faith' has origins dating back to 'Recent Songs', two are poems (Lord Byron, F R Scott) over which Cohen speaks rather than sings, Anjani co-writes 'On That Day', a 9/11 song and the breezy 'Nightingale'. Sharon Robinson co-writes 'The Letters' and a lot of songs here are brief, two/three minutes. Some seem underdeveloped and none have made their way to becoming concert staples. Leonard's voice is now almost a forgotten whisper in the breeze and musically 'Dear Heather' is barer than ever, simple arrangements and a jazzy feel dominate proceedings, even though 'dominate' is a word not readily associated with this 'Dear Heather' album, Cohen's 11th. 'Tennessee Waltz' is a strange addition to the album and would have been a peculiar way to end a career, a live recording of Cohen covering a country tune, the recording dating from 1985. 'The Faith' is lovely yet so unassuming it barely exists and a majority of the album simply doesn't come across as a sequence of songs. There's nothing wrong with Cohen, at this late stage in his career relying ever more on his words at the expense of the music and his vocals, yet the balance has titled so far one way you find it hard to imagine him ever making another record.

    There are two or three moments on 'Dear Heather' that make it worthwhile for any self-respecting Cohen fan. 'Go No More A Roving' is musically the most developed song here, containing as it does actual melodies and a recognisable structure. Elsewhere, Cohen experiments with form, most startling of all during 'Because Of', a clear album highpoint.

    Because of a few songs
    Wherein I spoke of their mystery,
    Women have been
    Exceptionally kind
    to my old age.

    They make a secret place
    In their busy lives
    And they take me there.
    They become naked
    In their different ways
    and they say,
    "Look at me, Leonard
    Look at me one last time."
    Then they bend over the bed
    And cover me up
    Like a baby that is shivering.

    'Morning Glory' starts as a funeral procession and ends bathed in heavenly angels singing gloriously. Of the poetry recitals (so to speak) 'Vilanelle For Our Time' works best, Cohen sticking purely to speaking the words yet allows the words to express their own natural rhythm whilst vibes and soft jazz quietly sit in the background.

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    Old Ideas 8 ( 2012 )
    Going Home / Amen / Show Me the Place / Darkness / Anyhow / Crazy to Love You / Come Healing / Banjo / Lullaby / Different Sides

    And here we are, with a new Leonard Cohen album perhaps none of us really expected following the disappointing 'Dear Heather'. Touring for a couple of years has clearly done Leonard some good, he uses his touring band in various permutations across this LP and tries to actually sing rather than heavily rely on his backing singers to carry the can. The record label promoted this album heavily, sensing a big seller and wonderfully they were correct in their hunches, 'Old Ideas' peaking at number two in the UK album charts and spending a further week in the top ten, at number eight. The synths are gone this time around, no doubt to sighs of relief within certain quarters of the Cohen fanbase. The female backing vocals this time are much quietier and at least two songs are instant Leonard Cohen classics. True, the first half of the LP contains the best songs, the second half apparently assuming you've fallen asleep and don't notice the drop in quality.

    'Show Me The Place', 'The Darkness' and 'Amen' deserve a special place in our hearts. 'Show Me The Place' is 'Hallelujah' quality, a gloriously perfect Leonard Cohen ballad full of spritualtiy and immense imagery. 'The Darkness' begins unexpectedly with a guitar pattern courtesy of Leonard himself. Well, it must be - it's very distinctive. This song rocks and rolls! This song sways and is fairly groovy for a Cohen track. We've glorious Piano and Organ sounds, the main bulk of the guitar probably not played by Cohen beyond that brief, inticing introduction and of course, the subject matter is King Cohen all over. 'Crazy To Love You' I often overlook and forget about, yet why? Perhaps because we've heard this all before with very early Leonard Cohen. Acoustic plus voice but then it suddenly hits you. He's really rolling back the years with this, the rise and fall of his voice suddenly getting to you. This could be a song present on any of his first four albums, quite some feat from him during this late stage of his career. Well, nobody expects Keef and Jagger to write a new 'Jumpin Jack Flash' that matches it's quality.

    I've been harsh actually on the 2nd half of the album. It contains not only 'Crazy To Love You' but also the quite beautiful 'Come Healing'. 'Banjo' is this albums nod to country music, the closing two songs probably are forgettable but there you are. A Leonard Cohen album released in 2012, topping the charts (nearly) and proving to be something of a revelation.

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    this page last updated 01/04/12

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