This 1984 album, the last of Cohen's folk masterpieces and one subtly spiced with country, constantly surprises with the intricacy of its arrangements - vocal & instrumental - while perennially revealing further facets of metaphysical & symbolic significance with the passing time. Particularly exquisite is the interaction of male & female vocals maintaining the balance that brings out the best in both. And no wonder, since both Anjani Thomas
and Jennifer Warnes add their devotion and their voices.
Cohen's gift of melody & rhythm finds buoyant expression in Dance Me to the End Of Love which may sound catchy and even frisky like a simple pop tune but if one pays attention the lyrics provide glimpses of new meaning perceivable from multiple angles. Slow and rather solemn, Coming Back to You unfolds tenderly through a graceful melody wed to imagery that navigates delicately between romantic and divine love. The track The Law and the following, The Night Comes On, evoke something about the poetry of John Berryman
... The Moon and the Night and the Men, The Song of the Tortured Girl and above all, Sonnet number 34.
The Night Comes On may be the absolute highlight of this album, a precious stone ranking amongst the greatest of his songs, which weaves together striking images of the domestic & personal with the universal, the spiritual, historical and prophetic over an undertow of longing and in a tapestry of symbolism that stirs, provokes and hints at half forgotten eternal concerns. There are close correspondences in the song Anthem on Future
Being familiar with John Cale's soaring version of Hallelujah on the tribute album I'm Your Fan
and Jeff Buckley's on Grace
, Cohen's own delivery sounds somewhat monotone and subdued, still beautiful but constrained in a narrow range compared to the aforementioned interpretations. The magic in Cohen's own take on the tale of David & Batsheba that started in sin and tragedy but was transformed into triumph and redemption emanate from the female vocals.
The lilting song The Captain with its tinkling piano has a tangy country flavor & ironic comment on "some country-western song" and once again the words that flow so smoothly contain & conceal as they undulate with the melody. The tempo drops in the solemn & mournful Hunter's Lullaby that in arrangement and tone resonates with the 1979 album Recent Songs
. Wide open to interpretation, one insight may be those subconscious impulses that enslave & blind us, which is why it reminds me of the song The Beast In Me by Nick Lowe on his album Impossible Bird
As in most of his work, Cohen's mysticism permeates every phrase and perhaps every sound, but it manifests most painfully in Hunter's Lullaby & most inspiringly in The Law, The Night Comes On and The Captain until it bursts forth with great exuberance on Heart With No Companion. The healing power can go everywhere and reach anyone, only & exactly because it has been shattered. It recalls the crack in everything that enables the light to get in, on the aforementioned Anthem, referring to the shattering of the vessels as explained more clearly in the Arizal's Etz Chayim as preserved by Rabbi Vital than in the Zohar.
The impassioned Heart With No Companion combines a lilting uptempo beat & hypnotic tune with words that strangely - because they deal with disillusionment, shattered dreams & disappointment with ominous prophetic undertones, "through the days of shame that are coming/through the nights of wild distress" - exude enormous comfort and reassurance in these lines:
"Now I greet you from the other side/of sorrow and despair/With a love so vast and shattered/It will reach you everywhere" whereby the Life Force is invoked to oppose the despair & all its works, as here portrayed: "For the heart with no companion/For the soul without a king/For the prima ballerina/Who cannot dance to anything"
... thoughts developed further in 2001 on Ten New Songs'
Land Of Plenty:
"For the Christ who has not risen/From the caverns of the heart/For what's left of our religion/I lift my voice and pray/May the lights in the land of plenty/Shine on the truth some day."
If Hunter's Lullaby seemingly submits to the hurt & hopeless resignation whilst Heart With No Companion clings & comforts by advising that, even if it counts for nothing, one's promise must be kept, the next and final is a sincere and straightforward plea for mercy for all the tormented souls. The prayer is dignified in its deference, praising and asking the Eternal Divine in quiet confidence to end the night, to heal and to embrace all His children in their "rags of light," the remnants of the shattered vessels.
As a sung prayer it is as moving as Calling My Children Home performed by Emmylou Harris on Spyboy
& At The Ryman although it is serene in its certainty compared to the yearning heartache of the Emmylou song. The one represents Rachel weeping for her children whilst the other, like Psalm 91, calms the tempest with an active, targeted authority. Unlike blind faith, it is the power in knowing that Spirit overrules or ameliorates the effects of The Law (of cause & effect) when petitioned in trust.
Coming back to Anjani and Jennifer, I highly recommend the first's inspiring album The Sacred Names on which she sings in Hebrew, Ancient Greek, Aramaic, Portuguese & English, and the second's sensitive interpretations of Cohen compositions on her Famous Blue Raincoat, the Twentieth Anniversary edition
that has been enhanced by four extra tracks: The Night Comes On, Ballad of the Runaway Horse, If It Be Your Will & Joan of Arc live in Antwerp where the Novecento Orchestra, West Brabants Operakoor & De Tweede Adem support Jenny & her band, adding depth to Cohen's elegy to the Maid of Orleans.