That old troubadour Leonard Cohen released his latest album, ‘Old Ideas‘, on the 31st of January of 2012, now almost a year ago. For myself it was a welcome return from this man of music, whose wise and melancholy words have kept me company long into the night on many an occasion. I first discovered him through listening to Jeff Buckley’s tremendous version of ‘Hallelujah‘, and I subsequently dived into into Cohen’s works. A poet, a novelist, a singer, and a lover, Cohen continues to be all of these and more. He is the eternal voice of despair, depression, love, acceptance, melancholy, and culture. As I discovered through my musical journey of his works he has been through a few different musical styles, but his lyrics, and his voice, have always remained distinctive. A review of his extensive oeuvre of albums would be better served by seeking them yourself, but what follows here is a selected highlight of some of my favourite albums, songs and books of his.
His back catalogue is an extensive one, but it is a beautiful one. One of the first albums I managed to procure was the elegant, subtle and subdued ‘Songs From A Room‘, his 2nd album released in 1969. Largely consisting of Cohen and his acoustic guitar, occasional female backing singers and little else, the album is a revelation, even during its own decade of release in the 1960’s. It is beautifully stripped back in its approach to highlight the poetry of Cohen’s lyrics and story telling. Perhaps my favourite song from this album (though the album is rewarded when played as one) is the song ‘The Partisan‘. The haunting lyrics, “‘oh the wind the wind is blowing, through the graves the wind is blowing, freedom soon will come”, is heightened by the addition of a french verse sang by both Cohen and female backing singers, extolling the grim reality of partisan war, of how life is often entangled in a deep romance with death.
‘Songs of Love and Hate‘ followed ‘Songs From a Room’ in 1971, and is much in the same vein as the previous album. The most moving song is ‘Famous Blue Coat‘, a paean to a triangle of love written in the form of a letter. It is an elegant, expressive, and an evocative song, with the details of a love soured. A late album now, released in 1992 ‘The Future‘ is a move away from the bare singer song writer, and includes a fuller band working on Cohen’s songs. The album largely leans towards folk rock, although there are tantalizing hints of synth and keyboard playing. The song ‘Democracy‘ prompts the listener into exploring the views extolled in the song.
Cohen toured the world from 2008-2010, in a much anticipated and long awaited return to the spotlight after some financial difficulties. The London date, in 2008, was released in DVD form, and showed the exquisite showman at his finest, singing strong even after all those years.
My first introduction to his poetry was the delightful and playful ‘Book of Longing‘ (2006). The poems are joined by the doodling’s and drawings of Cohen’s which litter the book, and are often colourful and joyful. A quick scan will show that he has a certain fascination with the female form, often returning back to it for further study and doodling. At the moment a collected edition of his poetry sits by my bed, ready to dip into at a moments notice.
This has been a brief introduction to some of Leonard Cohen’s works, and there are obvious gaps, but I hope you can fill them in by giving him a listen. He is often given criticism for sounding dour, or downbeat, but he has become more cheerful as the years have drifted by, by some accounts. Needless of what the critics have to say, his music, art and poetry will resonate for far longer than the snipes of criticism as to his state of mind or mood in which he created them. I sincerely hope you enjoy what you hear.