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4.6 out of 5 stars
The Essential Leonard Cohen
Format: Audio CD|Change
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on April 5, 2003
LC, I'm your fan. Have been since I first heard Suzanne going on four decades ago. I used to sing it walking down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley; it was a phenomenal song then and it still is. This 31 song double CD covers Cohen's career from Suzanne taking your hand and leading to the river to Alexandra leaving with her lord. There is nothing that should not be on this collection, unlike many so-called Essential collections when there is almost always one or more "what the heck is THAT song doing here" moment. My only complaint is that it could easily have had 7 or 8 more cuts; Songs from a Room is badly underrepresented -- where is the unbelievably sad Seems So Long Ago, Nancy and the Hours-like Tonight Will Be Fine, with its lyric that captured Cohen then and does now as well, "I choose the rooms I live in with care/the windows are small and the walls almost bare?" And while I'm mighty happy to have Cohen's version of Famous Blue Raincoat, why not his definitive Joan of Arc? Oh, well, enough carping. Those who have most or all of Cohen's work may not need this -- although popped into the CD player it is a magnificant overview of how consistently strong his work has been for decades, none of the Dylan peaks and valleys. But for those who have only a couple of the albums or are looking to get introduced, this CD is definitive and, oh, yes, essential.
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on May 3, 2004
The beauty of Leonard Cohen is he has always followed his own eccentric path and I see no duality between Cohen, the young romantic rake who ages into the embittered sensualist. It was always clear that Field Commander L. Cohen was going to dance us to the end of love, regardless of the consequences. Wheter it's the young revolutionary partisan, or the world weary cynic railing against the excesses of "democracy", Cohen has never been satisfied with the political or moral status quo. His career is based on dissatisfaction with the things as they are. For Cohen, redemption is impossible without wallowing in the mire. I can't imagine living the last 35 years of my life without the music of L. Cohen. It is the autobiography of a man unafraid to be both master and slave to desire. There is no contradiction between Cohen the folk singer and Cohen the post-modern electronic poet, just as it's difficult to draw distinctions between Dylan the folk singer and Dylan the rock and roll star. Two sides of the same man that coexist as complimentary halves of the same man.
Cohen may well be the most poetic songwriter of his generation. Well before he ever released "Songs of Leonard Cohen", he was a published poet and a literary icon in Canada. His more recent appeal among younger Bohemians for his existential honesty, differs from first generation hippies who celebrated Cohen as the embodiment of Eros and free love. His minmalist musical approach is a stark counterpoint to his poetic text which is lush with imagery, double meanings and ambivalent wordplay. "Sisters of Mercy" can be read as either a celebration of the good works of, either nuns or prostitutes depending on your viewpoint. "Hallelujah" makes a holy sacrament of uninhibited sexuality. Cohen always challenged the notion of duality in his themes by equating the sacred with the profane. His life's mission his been afflict discomfort on those who see the world in mutally exlusive terms of moral postivism.
Cohen was the reckless romantic who spent several years in a Bhuddist monastary and now he has returned as an aging Siddartha to challenge our conventional wisdom about life, love and morality. "The Essential Leonard Cohen" is the journey of a seeker of the truth beginning with a potrait of an artist as a young man, and ending with jaded musings of a sage and sinner who discovers the more he learns about life, the less he really knows. This is Cohen the zen-master who has nothing left to prove. We are wiser people for Cohen's long jouney into the heart of darkness and if you want the unadulterated truth about love and life, Leonard Cohen will be the first to step forward and fearlessly proclaim, "I'm your man."
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HALL OF FAMEon December 27, 2002
This grand retrospective draws heavily on Cohen's legendary earlier work (Disc One, Tracks 1 to 11), and then again on his later albums like Various Positions, I'm Your Man, The Future and Ten New Songs. Of course it deserves five stars - especially since the artist himself made this selection - but I do miss some of my favorites, like the graceful The Window from Recent Songs (1979), Heart With No Companion from Various Positions (1985), which in my opinion would have been a better choice than Hallelujah (listen to John Cale's great cover of this song on the I'm Your Fan tribute album) and Take This Waltz from I'm Your Man (1988). I completely agree with his choice of tracks from The Future and Ten New Songs, especially the magnificent Alexandra Leaving. It is perhaps understandable that he ignored Death Of A Ladies Man in its entirety, but this much maligned album has its gems such as True Loves Leaves No Traces and the lovely, light country number Fingerprints. If Cohen doesn't like the production, why doesn't he re-record some of these great songs? Another mystery is the skimpy contribution of Songs Of Love And Hate (1971). That album's masterpieces like Joan Of Arc and Diamonds In The Mine count amongst my favorites in his oeuvre. Oh well, there's no accounting for taste and it is the artist's prerogative to make his own selection. So enjoy his poetic and melodic genius, infused as it is with a unique spiritual quality, and his weary voice of resignation more often than not complemented by those famous female vocals just like the gilded frame of a dark painting.
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on February 7, 2003
From such early classics as "Suzanne" and "Sisters of Mercy" to such recent gems as "Democracy" and "Leaving Alexandra," Leonard Cohen has been a consistently stunning songwriter and the best of all the song-writing poets. His singing is perhaps an acquired taste - some love it and some hate it - but it complements the songs.
Any Cohen fan will argue with some of the choices here - the albums _Recent Songs_ and _Death of a Ladies Man_, in particular, are underrepresented, and the classic "Joan of Arc" is left off - but every song is poetic and thought provoking. Listening to this CD has renewed my interest in some songs that I hadn't noticed much before, such as "Night Comes On" and "Everybody Knows."
This CD is a major release by an important artist. Cohen's songs will be remembered long after 98% of our contemporary pop music is forgotten.
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on September 22, 2003
being only 23 years old, i'm aware that the mass of LC's body of work, be it album, novel, or as an actor, was out there long before i was even a glimmer in my daddy's eye. That being said, there isn't a single musician out there today who can even compare to Mr. Cohen. While I share some of the same feelings as the rest of the people who received their LC education late (that his later, more-deeper toned songs are better - if not more relevant today), I'm glad for a collection such as this. It is the perfect representation of a man who can only be called prolific (and even that falls dreadfully short). I do, however, think that "Joan of Arc" should have been included... But, the tracks were all hand-picked by LC, so i shan't complain too much.
All in all, this is THE only primer folks need for Cohen. Wonderful.
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on December 17, 2002
This magnificent collection belongs in every serious songwriter's archives. Never mind that after hearing it you might never pick up your pen again. I can think of no other writer whose lyrics are more concise, piercing, bewitching, prophetic and profound. Cohen's melodies are deceptively simple yet memorable; he surrounds himself with the creme de la creme of vocalists and backup musicians, who help to create real art...not chart-driven drivel.
This is food for the heart, for the head, for the restless soul and the weary spirit. Finally, somebody understands you...
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on August 4, 2003
For anyone who loves Leonard Cohen music I highly reccomend watching the movie "Kiss the Sky" which features an awesome soundtrack by Leonard with some songs not in this collection. I am still looking for the soundtrack CD.
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on December 29, 2002
The songs just keep getting better and better. I play it at work, I play it at home and in the car. Everyone who comes into the store wants to know whos voice it is.
proudly I say "Leonard Cohen"
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on December 27, 2002
We play it all day, every day and it keeps getting better and better. People come into the store and always want to know who is singing. It's amazing that this man is not known in the United States.
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on November 23, 2014
I like this album for the good song Susan, mostly. As well Leonard's voice seems much better then than now.
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