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Leonard Cohen

Canadian singer-songwriter

Studio Albums

Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)

Songs From a Room (1969)

Songs of Love and Hate (1971)

New Skin for Old Ceremony (1974)

Death of a Ladies Man (1977)

Recent Songs (1979)

Various Positions (1984)

I'm Your Man (1988)

The Future (1992)

10 New Songs (2001)

Dear Heather (2004)

Old Ideas (2012)




Leonard Cohen

Songs of Leonard Cohen  (1967) - 8

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

Sparse and beautiful, Leonard Cohen's poetry was the perfect antidote to the rockier elements of 1967. I was at journalism college when I first came across this album and I found it confusing. Amidst the Sergeant Peppers of this world came a Canadian poet, singing lyrics that you had to think deeply about. Depressing yes, ground breaking yes. For a start you either loved Cohen's monotone voice or you hated it. Personally  on the first few albums he gave a unique perspective on life and music - an artist that didn't fit into the mainstream but who became rightly famous for his style.

Songs of Leonard Cohen is a milestone album, simple arrangements swirling around the voice and utter poetry and haunting lines that can be plucked away from the music and stand out as poetry in their own right. The limitations of Cohen's voice actually enhance the songs and once this album gets into your psyche you will walk around with the songs in your head. Every now and again an artist comes up with a line or group of lines that are instantly memorable such as "She feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from Chine" from Suzanne.

And as with any great album, once you feel you know all the songs intimately, there's always something new to discover with Cohen's command of love, life and religious themes. In addition there is some lovely guitar work on this album.

Songs From a Room  (1969) - 6

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

Cohen's second album was something of a disappointment after the beauty of Songs of Leonard Cohen. The songs here are less clearly defined. Although in the same style they simply don't have the impact of the first album. Bird on a Wire has become a Cohen classic but songs like The Butcher are just a sad reflection of what has gone before.

You Know Who I Am is one of the highlights but the instrumentation of many of the tracks seems rather strange with a Jew's Harp randomly added to many of the offerings. Of course it's not a bad album but I can imagine that at the time there were a number of disappointed fans who expected something a little stronger.

Songs of Love and Hate (1971) - 6.5

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

Cohen could never be accused of being prolific in the songwriting stakes. His first album for two years contains just eight tracks. Perhaps a more personal album than the first two. There is plenty of self loathing in songs like "Dress Rehearsal Rag" where Cohen's delivery seems even more aggressive than usual. At times he sounds as if he is spitting rather than singing the lines as on "Diamonds in the Mine." It sounds strange that at times Cohen includes a female choir to help spit out the venom.

Songs of Love and Hate might be a little too stark for many and perhaps I include myself amongst these. There are plenty of highlights including one of his best loved and most engaging songs "Famous Blue Raincoat" with it's wonderful New York imagery. Overall it's rather a harsh album with moments of beauty - perhaps these are at times too few.

New Skin for Old Ceremony (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

 Old Ideas - 6

Going Home/Amen/Show Me the Place/Darkness/Anyhow/Crazy to Love You/Come Healing/Banjo/Lullaby/Different Sides

So what does a 77 year old Canadian poet still have to give the pop world? Well the answer if you believe the rock critics is an album of freshness that is up there with his best. The plaudits have come, the five star reviews are in. Is it really that good. Well the answer is probably no. But neither is it bad. It doesn't bear comparison with the early work when Cohen had a unique voice and slant on life. Now his voice sounds as if he has eaten a ton of gravel - somewhere approaching Tom Waits but not quite all the way there. The result is he talks the lyrics rather than sings them. There's the almost standard girlie background chorus and some forgettable  music. But there are also moments of beauty in a very laid back way that asse the album rise up from the entirely mundane to warrant its relief. Cohen returned to writing and live appearances after being faced with bankruptcy. This is rather worrying as it suggests it did it all for the money rather than the art and the other worry is it's another facing the grim reaper album following on from recent year releases from Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell. Thankfully there is humour here and Cohen still has the ability to take the juice out of himself and that alone stops it from ever becoming mundane. Don't expect anything as good as Suzanne, Bird on the Wire or Hallelujah however.