Leonard Norman Cohen, CC GOQ (21 September 1934 – 7 November 2016) was a Canadian singer, songwriter, poet and novelist. His work explored religion, politics, isolation, sexuality, and personal relationships. Cohen was inducted into both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest civilian honour. In 2011, Cohen received one of the Prince of Asturias Awards for literature and the ninth Glenn Gould Prize.
The critic Bruce Eder assessed Cohen’s overall career in popular music by asserting that “[he is] one of the most fascinating and enigmatic … singer/songwriters of the late ’60s … [and] has retained an audience across four decades of music-making…. Second only to Bob Dylan (and perhaps Paul Simon) [in terms of influence], he commands the attention of critics and younger musicians more firmly than any other musical figure from the 1960s who is still working at the outset of the 21st century.”
The Academy of American Poets has commented more broadly on Cohen’s overall career in the arts, including his work as a poet, novelist, and songwriter, stating that “Cohen’s successful blending of poetry, fiction, and music is made most clear in Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs, published in 1993, which gathered more than 200 of Cohen’s poems … several novel excerpts, and almost 60 song lyrics… while it may seem to some that Leonard Cohen departed from the literary in pursuit of the musical, his fans continue to embrace him as a Renaissance man who straddles the elusive artistic borderlines.”
Cohen’s first album was Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967) followed by Songs from a Room (1969) (featuring the often-recorded “Bird on the Wire“) and Songs of Love and Hate (1971). 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. “Hallelujah” was first released on Cohen’s 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.
You Want It Darker—-There has always been a stark, dark and poetic beauty to Cohen’s music…it seems even more so today. This track is minimal as you would expect….the chorus coming to life with added vocals. The music is no fanfare…instead allowing the voice to be the star of the show. When Cohen says “I’m ready Lord” you feel sad.
Treaty—-A lone piano greets your ears at the onset of the song…that is all you really need when the voice enters. Cohen sings/talks his way through what seems almost like a death conversation. The song is intense…sad and full of lyrics that can be construed in so many ways. This is a beautiful release. Amazing…Cohen sounds so pure and fresh three weeks out from his death. We have lost a master.So many religious references here…..fantastic.
On The Level—-A beautiful and gentle piano opens the track….joined by a lone un obtrusive guitar that allows the voice to shine. The mix seems to push the voice to the very front of the song…joined by wonderful female vocals which help to make the song larger. The lyrics are poetic beauty….this is stark and dark…but seems so full of life also,
Leaving The Table—-This track begins with a slight Country flair to it…the string guitar sounding sad and twangy. The voice is so lonely and tells of sadness and regret. This is incredibly beautiful and written with regret and woe. I feel a sadness from this release that I have not gotten from previous Cohen releases….this is incredible beautiful foresight.
If I Didn’t Have Your Love—-A beautiful Church like organ ushers in the track to accompany the voice. Again, the country elements seem to shine through as Cohen recites his regretful poetry over a beautiful soundtrack that leaves me sad and wanting so much more. This is brilliant.
Travelling Light—-Spanish style guitars and a lone violin usher in this track that is full of background voices…promising a much bigger sounding song. But once the vocal enters, the effects fall away and Cohen subtlety says goodbye and warns us of impending doom. This is incredibly sad….making me wonder what the sessions for this recording must have been like…there is so much foreshadowing and meanings to the words.
It Seemed The Better Way—-Sounding like chanting monks at the onset of the song, the sad violin enters and takes over the pace of the song…and then falls away as the vocal poetry begins. Leonard sounds so removed and alone as he talks his way through the lone and empty atmosphere of this song. Of course…references to death take on a new meaning…but you have to wonder what was going on. Leonard says “I better hold my tongue”……perhaps it was best we didn’t know.
Steer Your Way—-Musically brighter at the onset, again the music dies away to allow the spotlight to shine on the poetry, the words, the voice. The stark music has slight interruptions of jaunty fiddle and slight Country overtones…but always falls away to not drown out the voice. This is beautiful….joined by some classic female vocals towards the center of the song…it never takes away from the stark beauty of the song.
String Reprise/Treaty—-Regretfully ending this release with a beautiful string overture of the track Treaty, this is beautiful…with movements you can feel in the music…as if it lends it’s very voice to the beauty of the song. This is priceless….I wish I had paid more attention to this when I got it. Sometimes I accumulate music so quickly I never give it the time it deserves until I post my opinions on this blog…I’m glad circumstances led me to explore this release further….I will turn to it many times in the future…..A wonderful release!
***** out of 5