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I'm old enough to have lived through various music media formats from vinyl, then through cassettes and CDs to music DVDs and, of course, MP3 download, so you'll forgive me if I don't wholeheartedly embrace MP3 downloads as being the only way to store music. My loft is testament to that distrust, being full of old LPs (that's albums to you kiddiwinks) and cassettes and although I now have lots of music in MP3 format, I do prefer something more tangible so like to have the CD as a back-up.
With the passing of each of these once groundbreaking media, I've gradually lost a fair bit of my music collection which is almost like losing your past because listening to a specific track can bring a whole raft of memories flooding back. As a consequence, I've been gradually rebuilding my collection, replacing the more or less redundant vinyl and cassettes with CDs but when it came to my Leonard Cohen collection I decided rather than replace each individual album I'd buy instead The Essential Leonard Cohen which just about covers all the major songs from his career.
For those who've never heard of Leonard Cohen, he's a Canadian poet and author who moved into the songwriting arena in the 1960s which certainly broadened his appeal. Much of his work, both written and musical deals with relationships, loss and loneliness, spirituality and belief and many of his songs tend to be rather bleak and melancholic in outlook. I should add that Leonard's voice isn't the most melodic, being almost monotonous at times but the words and emotions expressed always more than makes up for that. He has a wide vocal range though which can move from a light tenor to a deep, toe curling, vibrating bass. He's frequently been compared to Bob Dylan and certainly in terms of vocal ability or lack of, I'd agree, but I think Leonard Cohen has the edge but that's probably just me as I've always thought Dylan was somewhat over-rated. With regard to song content, there are definitely elements which put him closer to Van Morrison certainly with regard to the spiritual and the metaphysical, although, musically and vocally, Van Morrison trumps Cohen.
This is a double CD collection of 31 songs ranging from his first release in 1967 Songs of Leonard Cohen which includes probably some of his best known songs, especially as several were used as the soundtrack for the 1970s film 'McCabe and Mrs Miller', through to his 2001 release Ten New Songs. And don't worry, I'm not going to review every one of those 31 but just pick out some of my favourites and I've added links to You Tube in case you want to take a listen.
These CDs showcase Leonard Cohen's career from what were very simple songs, more or less poems set to music, right through to more recent songs with full orchestration. It certainly demonstrates that he's a more diverse singer than just a writer of bleak and depressing songs.
Track 1 - Suzanne (from Songs of Leonard Cohen)
Probably his most famous song, his first hit, for which he signed away the rights and claims "It would be wrong to write this song and get rich from it too". Like all his early songs, this has only a guitar backing with the occasional inclusion of female backing singers for emphasis. There's a beautiful simplicity to this song which is a musical version of one of Cohen's poems. Although there are religious references in the song, it's mainly about an encounter with a fascinating woman, reputed to be the wife of a sculptor who Cohen had an affair with.
Track 4 - Hey That's No Way to Say Goodbye (from Songs of Leonard Cohen)
This is a very simple yet lyrical song about the end of a love affair. Musically, again this is just Cohen's voice with guitar backing and female vocal backing. A sad but memorable song which carries with it a wealth of emotion.
Track 7 - The Partisan (from Songs from a Room)
I love this song which is one of the few with any political content, telling of the futility of war and all that is given up to fight for an ideal. The beginning uses a guitar phrasing which I've heard recently being replicated by Mumford & Sons, who I suspect would name Leonard Cohen as one of their musical influences. The backing for this song is guitar and harmonica with the chorus and middle verse sung in French by Cohen and accompanied by his almost trademark female backing singers.
Track 12 - The Guests (from Recent Songs)
This is one of my favourite Cohen songs. It's a lovely and surprisingly lyrical piece which has more instrumentation than the usual spare accompaniment. The track begins with slightly dischordant guitar which is soon joined by solo violin and then later the female backing voices which add a choral element to the song, sometimes in counterpoint to Cohen's voice and at others harmonising.
Track 13 - Hallelujah (from Various Positions)
This is probably one of Cohen's most covered songs and Jeff Buckley certainly does it better and Alexandra Burke ruined it. There is a raw quality to this original version which is lacking in Buckley's and the essence of the song is distilled by Cohen's bleak monotone.
Track 16 - I'm Your Man (from I'm Your Man)
This song has a very intimate feel to it as though Cohen is only singing to the listener. His voice takes on a deep, resonant timbre here and is accompanied by a more orchestral backing with an intro which could almost be for a dance tune until he beginning singing.
Track 18 - Tower of Song (from I'm Your Man)
I absolutely love this song because it perfectly showcases Cohen's wry attitude to life, love and himself. This is one of the most up tempo songs Cohen has ever recorded as well, with the insistent metronomic beat like the ticking of a clock. As with all the tracks, though, the music never overshadows the sentiment of the words.
Track 4 - Dance Me to the End of Love (from Cohen Live)
This is a live recording and begins with a couple of very Spanish sounding musical phrases before full orchestration and vocal backing join in for the intro where the sound becomes much more Central European conjuring up pictures of a Viennese cafe perhaps or a Jack Vettriano painting. The violin solo is reminiscent of Stephane Grappelli. This is an unashamed love song and is as far removed from early Cohen as it's possible to be. This makes me think that whatever Leonard Cohen was looking for, he's found at last.
2. The Stranger Song
3. Sisters of Mercy
4. Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye
5. So Long Marianne
6. Bird on a Wire
7. The Partisan
8. Famous Blue Raincoat
9. Chelsea Hotel #2
10. Take This Longing
11. Who by Fire
12. The Guests
14. If It Be Your Will
15. Night Comes On
16. I'm Your Man
17. Everybody Knows
18. Tower of Song
1. Ain't No Cure for Love
2. Take This Waltz
3. First We Take Manhattan
4. Dance Me to the End of Love
5. The Future
7. Waiting for the Miracle
8. Closing Time
10. In My Secret Life
11. Alexandra Leaving
12. A Thousand Kisses Deep
13. Love Itself
With Leonard Cohen it's probably always better to get a complete album than a 'best of' collection, but if you must get a 'best of' this is probably the 'best of' the 'best ofs' on offer (what?).
Let's start over. This is an excellent overview of Cohen's career with something to please everyone. I'll be the first to admit, I'm not a huge fan of all that later synth malarkey but the lyrics more than make it a worth while listen. Indeed, I (despite what I said above) was first introduced to Leonard Cohen through an earlier 'best of' (a 'good' 'best of' at that - this is getting us nowhere).
I've had this album a few years now and listen to it often - disc one more so than disc two, but that is merely a personal genre preference - I prefer the early acoustic-folk sound.
If you're torn between this and another 'album', always go for the album, but if you just want a collection to introduce his work or bring together some of his greatest songs, then this is a must have.
this old guy sings in a slow croaky manner rather like a white Barry White just a little faster and has a greater variety of subject matter- although if your bringing a girl back and you wanna get a mood going - i would bet on Barry White - thats assuming she don't think its to cheesy and make a run for it, lest she think you some sort of rapper. (if you know what i mean)
Anyway, he has recently been making a come-back doing live gigs inc. Glastonbury cos word has it that he is poor as a church mouse as of being ripped off by an ex-manager who is now sipping cocktails in martinique courtesy of Leonard's career earnings.
He spent 5 years in a zen monastery trying to get over his neuroticisms and the music has a kind of zenny etheriality about it, all monontonous and empty and zemi-religious - linked as much to the fact that most of his tunes/melodies are ripped off from ancient Jewish hymns.
But yeah, good lyrics.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 The Stranger Song
3 Sisters Of Mercy
4 Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye
5 So Long, Marianne
6 Bird On A Wire
7 The Partisan
8 Famous Blue Raincoat
9 Chelsea Hotel #2
10 Take This Longing
11 Who By Fire
12 The Guests
14 If It Be Your Will
15 Night Comes On
16 I'm Your Man
17 Everybody Knows
18 Tower Of Song
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 Ain't No Cure For Love
2 Take This Waltz
3 First We Take Manhattan
4 Dance Me To The End Of Love
5 The Future
7 Waiting For The Miracle
8 Closing Time
10 In My Secret Life
11 Alexandra Leaving
12 A Thousand Kisses Deep
13 Love Itself