Leonard Cohen – Songs Of Love And Hate (1971)

AllMusic Review: Songs of Love and Hate is one of Leonard Cohen’s most emotionally intense albums — which, given the nature of Cohen’s body of work, is no small statement. While the title Songs of Love and Hate sums up the album’s themes accurately enough, it’s hardly as simple as that description might lead you to expect — in these eight songs, “love” encompasses the physical (“Last Year’s Man”), the emotional (“Famous Blue Raincoat”), and the spiritual (“Joan of Arc”), and the contempt in songs like “Dress Rehearsal Rag” and “Avalanche” is the sort of venom that can only come from someone who once cared very deeply. The sound of the album is clean and uncluttered, and for the most part the music stays out of the way of the lyrics, which dominate the songs. Thankfully, Cohen had grown noticeably as a singer since his first two albums, and if he hardly boasts a range to rival Roy Orbison here, he is able to bring out the subtleties of “Joan of Arc” and “Famous Blue Raincoat” in a way his previous work would not have led you to expect. And while Bob Johnston’s production is spare, it’s spare with a purpose, letting Cohen’s voice and guitar tell their stories and using other musicians for intelligent, emotionally resonant punctuation (Paul Buckmaster’s unobtrusive string arrangements and the use of a children’s chorus are especially inspired). And Songs of Love and Hate captured Cohen in one of his finest hours as a songwriter, and the best selections (especially “Famous Blue Raincoat,” “Joan of Arc,” and “Love Calls You by Your Name”) rank with the most satisfying work of his career. If Songs of Love and Hate isn’t Cohen’s best album, it comes close enough to be essential to anyone interested in his work. — Mark Deming

Track Listing

Side one

  1. “Avalanche” – 5:01
  2. “Last Year’s Man” – 6:02
  3. “Dress Rehearsal Rag” – 6:12
  4. “Diamonds in the Mine” – 3:52

Side two

  1. “Love Calls You by Your Name” – 5:44
  2. “Famous Blue Raincoat” – 5:15
  3. “Sing Another Song, Boys” (Live at the Isle of Wight Festival, August 31, 1970) – 6:17
  4. “Joan of Arc” – 6:29

 

Schill Score:  7.25/10

 

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Leonard Cohen – Songs From A Room (1969)

AllMusic Review: Leonard Cohen’s first album was an unqualified triumph which announced the arrival of a bold and singular talent, and many who heard it must have wondered what Cohen could do for an encore. By comparison, Cohen’s second album, 1969’s Songs from a Room, was something of a letdown. While it’s a fine LP, it ultimately feels neither as striking nor as assured as Songs of Leonard Cohen. Bob Johnston stepped in as producer for Songs from a Room, and his arrangements are simpler than those John Simon crafted for the debut, but they’re also full of puzzling accents, such as the jew’s harp that punctuates several tracks, the churchy organ line in “The Old Revolution,” and the harsh synthesizer flourishes on “A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes.” Johnston also had trouble coaxing strong vocal performances from Cohen; his singing here sounds tentative and his meter is uncertain, which regardless of how one feels about Cohen’s much-debated vocal prowess is not the case with his other work. And finally, the quality of the songs on Songs from a Room is less consistent than on Songs of Leonard Cohen; as fine as “Bird on a Wire,” “You Know Who I Am,” “The Story of Isaac” and “Seems So Long Ago, Nancy” may be, “The Butcher” and “A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes” simply aren’t up to his usual standards. Despite the album’s flaws, Songs from a Room’s strongest moments convey a naked intimacy and fearless emotional honesty that’s every bit as powerful as the debut, and it left no doubt that Cohen was a major creative force in contemporary songwriting. — Mark Deming

Track Listing:

Side one

  1. “Bird on the Wire” – 3:28
  2. “Story of Isaac” – 3:38
  3. “A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes” – 3:18
  4. “The Partisan”  – 3:29
  5. “Seems So Long Ago, Nancy” – 3:41

Side two

  1. “The Old Revolution” – 4:50
  2. “The Butcher” – 3:22
  3. “You Know Who I Am” – 3:32
  4. “Lady Midnight” – 3:01
  5. “Tonight Will Be Fine” – 3:53

 

Schill Score: 6.5/10

 

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Leonard Cohen – The Songs Of Leonard Cohen (1968)

AllMusic Review: At a time when a growing number of pop songwriters were embracing a more explicitly poetic approach in their lyrics, the 1967 debut album from Leonard Cohen introduced a songwriter who, rather than being inspired by “serious” literature, took up music after establishing himself as a published author and poet. The ten songs on Songs of Leonard Cohen were certainly beautifully constructed, artful in a way few (if any) other lyricists would approach for some time, but what’s most striking about these songs isn’t Cohen’s technique, superb as it is, so much as his portraits of a world dominated by love and lust, rage and need, compassion and betrayal. While the relationship between men and women was often the framework for Cohen’s songs (he didn’t earn the nickname “the master of erotic despair” for nothing), he didn’t write about love; rather, Cohen used the never-ending thrust and parry between the sexes as a jumping off point for his obsessive investigation of humanity’s occasional kindness and frequent atrocities (both emotional and physical). Cohen’s world view would be heady stuff at nearly any time and place, but coming in a year when pop music was only just beginning to be taken seriously, Songs of Leonard Cohen was a truly audacious achievement, as bold a challenge to pop music conventions as the other great debut of the year, The Velvet Underground & Nico, and a nearly perfectly realized product of his creative imagination. Producer John Simon added a touch of polish to Cohen’s songs with his arrangements (originally Cohen wanted no accompaniment other than his guitar), though the results don’t detract from his dry but emotive vocals; instead, they complement his lyrics with a thoughtful beauty and give the songs even greater strength. And a number of Cohen’s finest songs appeared here, including the luminous “Suzanne,” the subtly venomous “Master Song” and “Sisters of Mercy,” which would later be used to memorable effect in Robert Altman’s film McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Many artists work their whole career to create a work as singular and accomplished as Songs of Leonard Cohen, and Cohen worked this alchemy the first time he entered a recording studio; few musicians have ever created a more remarkable or enduring debut. — Mark Deming

Track Listing:

Side A

  1. “Suzanne” – 3:48
  2. “Master Song” – 5:55
  3. “Winter Lady” – 2:15
  4. “The Stranger Song” – 5:00
  5. “Sisters of Mercy” – 3:32

Side B

  1. “So Long, Marianne” – 5:38
  2. “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” – 2:55
  3. “Stories of the Street” – 4:35
  4. “Teachers” – 3:01
  5. “One of Us Cannot Be Wrong” – 4:23

 

Schill Score: 3.5/10

Schill Comment: Doesn’t come anywhere close to his older stuff, this sounds like he was trying too hard to be Dylan

 

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