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A Suitable Primer
on March 28, 2004
The name Leonard Cohen first came to my attention way back in the day when Suzanne was released. It was a fairly popular and much-covered song, but it never occurred to me to actually buy the album. I was into much musically heavier things at the time and so my awareness of Cohen gradually receded into distant memory.
Nowadays, my musical interests are much wider and my pockets deeper, so I took a chance on Cohen's CD Ten New Songs when it was released several years ago. It took a while to get into, but I liked some of the songs immediately. My rule with music is that if I like a CD I've purchased by an unfamiliar artist, I buy something else by that artist also in order to give myself a broader enjoyment and understanding of their work. And so it went with Cohen. I picked up several more CDs and liked them enough to feel confident that I would be pleased with The Essential Leonard Cohen.
I have read all the reviews posted here, both positive and negative, and observe that its a given with any compilation that one will always feel that some songs were included that shouldn't have been and some obvious winners omitted. My candidate for ejection is Alexandra Leaving. I would have much preferred to see Boogie Street included or possibly Joan of Arc in its stead.
I think the CD is nicely divided into two periods because as several reviewers have noted, Cohen seems to have two voices. A lot of songs on the first CD one might classify as neo-folk, for lack of a better term. On this, I like Suzanne, The Partisan, Hallelujah, and I'm Your Man best.
On the second CD, the music is more in the direction of soul tinged rock with the occasional nod to country. And Cohen's deepening voice on the second CD imbues the music with more mystery and even occasional menace. I prefer the second disc with its apocalyptic renderings of First We Take Manhattan and The Future. Cohen's blood-chilling delivery on the latter combined with its scathing lyrics should give everyone a lot to think about. Closing Time wouldn't be out of place in any country dancehall and could probably be an alt-country radio hit. A Thousand Kisses Deep is evocative of the work of Michael Franks during his Objects of Desire period. But next to The Future, you might find the live recording of the dreamy and romantic Dance Me To The End of Love to be the surprise best cut. It is really tremendous. Juxtaposed with the former, it shows Cohen to be a man of huge talent who can literately express the gamut of human emotion through song.
This CD is not really for those who have all of Leonard Cohen's recordings already, but it is a suitable primer for anyone who wants an overview of this underrated musician's work.