Old Ideas

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.

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Driftin’ Back

Driftin’ Back‘ is a new 27 minute long mammoth song from ‘Psychedelic Pill‘, the album recently released from the the grizzled rocker Neil Young.  Psychedelic Pill marks his 37th studio album, and it is a strong return to form for Young, with his ever trusty backing band Crazy Horse providing the fuzz.  I do have a soft spot for long songs, as I personally feel it lets the listener become enveloped within the musicians own feelings, and truly lets the song develop a nature of its own.  The album is a wonderful sludge-fest which is filled with biting lyrics from Young, obviously recorded in a feisty and somewhat downbeat mood.  In fact this album is generously laced with long interludes of extended songs throughout, starting with ”Driftin’ Back’ as the opening song, and then continuing with the mini epics ‘Ramada Inn‘ and ‘Walk Like a Giant‘s slotted in.  To be fair this album is also a gorgeous 89 minute long bitter love affair, and one I thoroughly adore.

Discovering Neil Young came at a time that was just right for me, as I became engulfed in discovering alternative music from the 80’s/90’s.  Ever since starting to play the guitar, I had always loved the sloppy, imperfect musicianship of alternative bands (even though there is, of course, much technical and artistic skill in playing music).  I liked the rough and ready emotion of many of the bands, and Young’s music seemed to fit right into this.  Although he has graced many different musical styles over his long career, Neil Young has never been one for glossing over the actual lyrical depth or emotional content, and whilst it is easy to fall for one particularly genre in his epic musical oeuvre*,  I’d unceasingly ask to you to venture to hear his older music.  It can be devastating in its emotional charge, as found in songs such as ‘Needle and the Damage Done’ and ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into to the Black)‘.

For all the latest news and upcoming tours, a visit to his website will surely direct you to it.  It also has a Neil Young Times, a quite in-depth version of his own newspaper where you can learn about the various supports and causes Young champions (Young even has a new species of trapdoor spider named after him).  Young is certainly not adverse to airing his feelings, and championing his causes.  One of the first albums I heard by him was the uncompromising 2006 album ‘Living With War‘, in which he let rip his feelings on American’s invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, alongside the serving president at the time George Bush Jr.  His comment on why he felt he had to write this album (staggeringly wrote and recorded within a month) on being critical about American politics, he responded ‘I was hoping some young person would come along and say this and sing some songs about it, but I didn’t see anybody, so I’m doing it myself. I waited as long as I could’ (from Wikipedia).  This is all you need to know about Neil Young; he fights and encourages for what he believes, and will produce beautiful music while doing so.

I hope you can find the time to listen to the new song, ‘Driftin’ Back’, of his new album, and maybe become acquainted, if you aren’t already, with a rocker who never ceases to stop.  He has also just released his new autobiography ‘Waging Heavy Peace’ to widespread acclaim, and I think it will find it’s way onto my reading list.  Meantime, enjoy the music.

* I haven’t even mentioned his musical adventures in ‘Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’ or ‘Buffalo Springfield’, or his burgeoning career in directing films and documentaries.