Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Leonard Cohen album by album

(Still a work drifting in progress.....maybe she'll find me soon in a room with a torch....)

I have long found Leonard Cohen fascinating. He was part of the singer-songwriter movement of the late Sixties / early Seventies,  which put some pop or rock music energy to a more traditional folky approach to music, and - most importantly - wrote their own songs, so there was a canon to look at, and thus a unity and cohesiveness that was quite compelling.  Cohen's music, impelled - as were most singer-songwriters of the time - by Bob Dylan and his energising of the folk movement, and in particular his bringing folk music to the masses with  his youth, his modern lyrics and attitude, and his merging of rock music into folk, was also informed by his literary background. Cohen didn't start out as a musician or folk singer, he started out as a poet and novelist.


Leonard Norman Cohen CC GOQ (September 21, 1934 – November 7, 2016) was a Canadian singer, songwriter, musician, poet, novelist, and painter. His work explored religion, politics, isolation, sexuality, and personal relationships.[2] Cohen was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation's highest civilian honor. In 2011, Cohen received one of the Prince of Asturias Awards for literature and the ninth Glenn Gould Prize.

Cohen pursued a career as a poet and novelist during the 1950s and early 1960s; he did not launch a music career until 1967, at the age of 33. His first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), was followed by three more albums of folk music: Songs from a Room (1969), Songs of Love and Hate(1971) and New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974). His 1977 record Death of a Ladies' Man was co-written and produced by Phil Spector, which was a move away from Cohen's previous minimalist sound. In 1979, Cohen returned with the more traditional Recent Songs, which blended his acoustic style with jazz and Oriental and Mediterranean influences. Perhaps Cohen's most famous song, "Hallelujah" was first released on his studio album Various Positions in 1984. I'm Your Man in 1988 marked Cohen's turn to synthesized productions and remains his most popular album. In 1992, Cohen released its follow-up, The Future, which had dark lyrics and references to political and social unrest.

Cohen returned to music in 2001 with the release of Ten New Songs, which was a major hit in Canada and Europe. His eleventh album, Dear Heather, followed in 2004. After a successful string of tours between 2008 and 2010, Cohen released three albums in the final four years of his life: Old Ideas (2012), Popular Problems (2014) and You Want It Darker (2016), the last of which was released three weeks before his death.

Cohen's debut is his most popular and most acclaimed album. It sets the template for his style, from which he has not strayed far. It contains some of his most well known and enduring songs. It's one of the great debuts, and like the Velvet Underground, while he did do decent, strong, and very popular work afterwards, he never again produced an album this brilliant and iconic. 
While this is in the folky singer-songwriter style, what Cohen adds is a particular poetic phrasing and imagery that is rare in songwriters; and he also adds a famously pessimistic approach to the music and lyrical content. It is appropriate that the cover should be black, with a sombre sepia tint image of a gloomy Cohen staring out. 
A stirring, unique, and hugely satisfying album.

Pitchfork: 9.6
AllMusic: 10
Score: 10

Songs from a Room  (1969)

A fairly sparse and dull album. It does contain "Bird on a Wire", but otherwise doesn't really develop on from the debut, and is much weaker. If he'd started with this, his career might never have taken off.

Pitchfork: 8.8
AllMusic: 8
Score: 4

Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 (2009) 

Not released until 2009. The 1970 festival was different for performers toward the end because the crowd were tired and grumpy. Cohen came on in the early hours of the last night and the crowd
warmed to him quickly. This is a wonderful recording.


Songs of Love and Hate (1971)

Returns to the sound of the first album, but without the variety. This consolidated Cohen's reputation as a gloomy pessimist. Put on a Cohen album and pass the razor blades. This is more stressed than the debut - the songs are thinner, and the attempt to fill them out with more effort in singing by Cohen doesn't work for me. However, this is overall a more satisfying album than Songs from a Room.

Pitchfork: 8.2
AllMusic: 9
Score: 5

Live Songs (1973)

Cohen's first official live album. This is not as good as the later released Live at the Isle of Wight 1970. Patchy and weak. No real atmosphere.

AllMusic:  8

New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974)

Nothing much going on here. Hmmmm. There's some Randy Newman, and a sense of Cohen wanting to branch out. There's still the Dylan vibe going on, but you can feel he wants to be a little different, but is unsure in which direction to go. It's poems set to music, and the music part doesn't really work. This seems to be a constant. Somehow the sparse music and vocal quality works on Songs, but I'm not finding the lack of musical quality really working for me outside of that album....

AllMusic: 8 
Score: 5

Death of a Ladies' Man (1977)

Produced and co-written by Phil Spector, this has an attractive lush sound, and the approach is quite soulful. This is not quite what people associate with Cohen, which makes it all the more interesting. Contains "Don't Go Home With Your Hard-On". Probably the most musical of his albums. And there's interesting echoes of John Lennon and Lou Reed but without quite matching those giants. I kinda like this.

AllMusic:  8
Score: 5 1/2

Recent Songs (1979)

The opening song got my attention, and the album held it .....

AllMusic: 8
Score: 6

Various Positions (1984) 
This contains "Dance" and "Hallelujah". Two good songs.  "Dance Me To The End Of Love" is done better by Madeleine Peyroux, though having listened again to the rivals, I do think Cohen does "Hallelujah" better than Jeff Buckley, Alexandra Burke, and Rufus Wainwright, etc.  k.d. lang's version is quite sweeping but overdone. John Cale was the first to cover  it, and to fix the verses for all 300 versions that followed, after he had Cohen fax him all 80 verses, and selected the ones he liked best. Great song. Pretty bloody awesome actually.

AllMusic: 8
Score: 8

I'm Your Man (1988)
Contains as the opening song, "First We Take Manhattan". 


The Future (1992) 
A bit of R.E.M. creeping in now.

AllMusic: 7

Cohen Live (1994)
An attractive live summary of some of Cohen's best songs, sung with intimate warmth. There is little of the theatre and art that one gets with the major singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young, but it is quite homely in a middle-of-the-road way.  I like it.

AllMusic: 5  
Score:  5

Ten New Songs (2001) 

Dear Heather (2004) 

Old Ideas (2012) 

Popular Problems (2014) 


Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)
Songs from a Room (1969)
Songs of Love and Hate (1971)
New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974)
Death of a Ladies' Man (1977)
Recent Songs (1979)
Various Positions (1984)
I'm Your Man (1988)
The Future (1992)
Ten New Songs (2001)
Dear Heather (2004)
Old Ideas (2012)
Popular Problems (2014)

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