My favorite Leonard Cohen Album: Songs of Love and Hate.

(I have also reviewed Leonard Cohen’s latest album.)

So what’s your favourite Leonard Cohen Album?

We are told that a new album is on its way, due January 2012.  The Net-town is a a-buzz with chat about which album is the best, and I confess to it being a delicious way to fizzle away time. After all, the answer is “all of them” so the futility of trying to work out the best Cohen album is nothing more than a wonderful new way to talk about him.

Here is a list of the studio albums, just to remind you:

Title and  Release date

Songs of Leonard Cohen    27 December 1967

Songs from a Room    April 1969

Songs of Love and Hate    March 1971

New Skin for the Old Ceremony    August 1974

Death of a Ladies’ Man    November 1977

Recent Songs    September 1979

Various Positions    December 1984

I’m Your Man    February 1988

The Future    24 November 1992

Ten New Songs    9 October 2001

Dear Heather    26 October 2004

Old Ideas    31 January 2012 (the new album)

I’m one of those who always knew about LC.  I was lucky enough that my mother loved him. LC is so great, he transcends generations, so I was able to immerse myself in his music in my teeny angst at the same time as she as lamenting the death of yet another failed relationship.  We may not have mourned in the same room or to the same album at the same time, but we both mourned to Leonard.

My Mum’s favourite album was Songs Of Leonard Cohen and this was mine though my younger years as well. For her it’s that song – “That’s no way to say goodbye” that just seemed to be specifically written for her.  I loved every song on this album, but I didn’t quite have the failed relationship sorry depths. After all, all my crushes, realised or otherwise were anticipated failures and usually I was on to the next before I had time to really dwell on ideas like hair on pillows or eyes soft with sorrow.

Even back as a teenager I was more intrigued by songs like Master Song and Teachers.  This later led to an absolute obsession with The Stranger Song that can still capture me when I hear it, making me pause in my step.  Those words “It’s hard to hold the hand of anyone whose reaching for the sky just to surrender” warned me as a young teenager that there was something about being a woman in love that I needed to be wary of.  Watch for that highway that’s curling just like smoke above his shoulder.  When he speaks like this you don’t know what he’s after.

I told you when I came I was a stranger.

However, it was Songs of Love and Hate that had me surrender  completely to the magnificence of Leonard Cohen.  This has the song Famous Blue raincoat which has become one of his greatest songs, and is so deeply personal and so disturbingly close to a man’s heart that it is a song impossible to get over. Lines like: “thanks for the trouble you took from her eyes. I thought it was there for good, so I never tried.” cut you deep. Although there is depth and beauty in the first two albums, for me this is where his unique perspective really comes to play. Lines like, from Avalanche: Your pain is no credential here, just the shadow, shadow of my wound. From Dress Rehearsal Rag: That’s not the electric light my friend, that’s your vision going dim. From Diamonds in the mine: There is no comfort in the coverns of the witch, some very clever doctor went and sterilized the bitch, and the only man of energy, yes the revolutions pride, he trained a hundred women just to kill an unborn child.

The lyrics are cutting. They are painful, and reach into that fear-laced horror we all have of our darkest weakness inside being seen.

LC’s singing style is filled with more raw passion here as well. The first two albums are a shattering observation about humanity and their interactions, but this album. This is about me. Cohen screams out some of the songs, bleating from the heart in a way that rips at your guts. He combines this with the tingling sweetness of his omnipresent harmonic female backing vocals who sing this bitter twisted words with so much sweetness you are almost unsure of your own responses. Then its just him and the guitar bleeding all over you in Famous BLue raincoat, a song so profoundly resigned to his own pain, it simply has to be true.

For me the two giants of this album are Sing another song boys and Joan of Arc.  As a feminist, the insight in Joan of Arc, the tragedy and loss for a woman in love, is devastating. Here is a powerful woman who is just tired. Tired of the fight, the desperate daily struggle. She wants a rest. She wants a partner. As soon as she makes this decision her suitor becomes available to relive her of her freedom. It’s not till her wedding day, that she realizes  Joan of Arc is wood, and she has married fire. This beautiful parable so clearly portrays the destructive possibility marriage can be for a woman, that it is very difficult to understand how a man could have written it.

I saw her wince, I heard her cry

I saw the glory in her eye.

Myself I long for love and light

but must it come so cruel and oh so bright?

The desperate hopelessness of young love in Sing Another Song Boys terrifies with its insights. How can anyone know people this well? How can anyone know poetry this well? This verse just crushes me:

She finds him laying in a heap. She wants to be his woman.

he says: yes I might just go to sleep, but kindly leave, leave the future, leave it open.

he stands where it is steep.  Oh I guess he thinks that he’s the very first one.

His hands upon his leather belt now, like it was the wheel of some big ocean liner,

And she will learn to touch herself so well, as all the sails burn down like paper.

I find this small passage shocking. His agreeing to the relationship, his movement toward unconsciousness in order to be able to tolerate it, not wanting to close the door on possibility. Yet, he can’t help himself, he falls. He stands in the most dangerous place, gets close to her, sleeps with her, feels like her first lover, the first lover ever. He drives himself, penis first, as if he were guiding a powerful ocean liner – such a strong statement of the falseness of egocentric connection.

Then those chilling final lines. And she will learn to touch herself so well.  Rendering him redundant. Making him unnecessary, so that all the sails of the dream he was never sure he was having, burn down like paper. It is his capture that is essential. Not him.

We are told they will never reach the moon. At least not the one we’re after. Love carries no survivors.

But then he says, lets leave these lovers wondering why they cannot have each other.

And lets sing another song boys. This one has grown old and bitter.

There are few lyrics, for me that can touch the raw sad desperate accuracy of young love. the desperate seeking for each other, at the time in our lives when we can lest rely on ourselves, and at the time when we have no understanding of the smoky illusory nature of love.

Leonard Cohen ends this remarkable song with a la la la segment that again, reaching into that guttural yawn that engulfs all the pain there is to be had.