With the release of the new documentary I’m You Man, the reissues as discussed in this article and the countless covers that are popping up in movies and television shows, it is wonderful that Leonard Cohen is enjoying a much needed resurrection in popular culture. Mainstream outlets perhaps passed him by in earlier years as peers like Bob Dylan were unnecessarily considered better than him. Singing what sounds like solid sentences from chapters of a disturbing book, Cohen has stated that it takes him years to write a single song. I feel that it would take just as long to decipher a single Cohen song in order to discover all of its intricate parts and subtexts.
Columbia Records and Legacy have reissued what are widely, but debatably, considered Cohen’s three best albums: Songs of Leonard Cohen (1968), Songs from a Room (1969) and Songs of Love and Hate (1971). Quite possibly The Leonard Cohen Starter Kit, these albums do represent his most accessible work and, in this reviewer’s opinion, Leonard Cohen at his musical best. Not only at Cohen’s best, but these are three of the greatest albums ever made. As time went on and the ’80s were what they were, Cohen added the electronic noise and wandering saxophone, which ended up making some of his most beautiful poetry almost unbearable for the listener.
Songs by Leonard Cohen should be sold as CliffsNotes. These songs, unlike Dylan’s incomprehensible lyrics, have words so specifically chosen and meticulously combed over that every line seems to have at least three different meanings. Often bathed in irony and human error; beautifully acoustic, sometimes trimmed with an angelic chorus, it is all about the words. These are some of the greatest albums of all time, and deserve to be read along withâ€”hold the lyrics in your hand and just follow alongâ€”with songs of war, love, hate, betrayal and cheating, with every other sin and saint in-between. Evoking images of biblical and historical characters only to cast them roles in a modern day society, Cohen’s deep understanding of human nature has inspired countless artists. His music is a melancholy mix of often depressing, sometimes hopeful, always sexy, a bit romantic but always delightfully enigmatic.
If you have no Cohen in your music library, you owe it to your soul to get these albums and become part of the experience. No more thinking that “Hallelujah” is a Jeff Buckley or Rufus Wainwright song. It is time to quote “Famous Blue Raincoat”, “The Stranger Song” or “So Long, Marianne”. Man or woman, young or old, there is something for everyone in Cohen’s work.
With such tenacity (especially for a devout Buddhist monk), Cohen has clung hard to the edges of culture since the ’60s without losing a step or a fan. This was evidenced last year, which saw the release of a new album by Anjani Thomas, Cohen’s long-time backup singer and girlfriend, called Blue Alert. Now an artist in her own right, Anjani’s album was written with and produced by Cohen, and contains songs just as powerful. Using many of his unfinished poems, she is able to give a sultry, seductive voice to Cohen’s music while adding a smoke-filled jazz club atmosphere to the entire album.
Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen
Columbia Records (1968)
Leonard Cohen – Songs From a Room
Columbia Records (1969)
Leonard Cohen – Songs of Love and Hate
Columbia Records (1971)
Anjani – Blue Alert
Columbia Records (5/19/06)