Leonard Cohen – Songs From A Room
Ah, Leonard, another artist who is a must-have on vinyl for me. I’ve always loved his work, both prose and song (and surely the two are one in the same, in most cases). So, when I found this, it was a shoe-in to come home with me.
Bird On A Wire is just one of those songs (and what an opening salvo for an album!). I wouldn’t care how many times it got played, so long as this was the man singing it. It is gorgeously orchestral as much as it is simply acoustic. It is also slightly absurd, with what must be a jewsharp boinging in the background (and indeed that thing appears all over this record). In other words, the track is pure Leonard at his most focussed, his most beautiful. I know Kris Kristofferson once said he wanted the opening stanza of this song to be his epitaph. Too much? You decide. I’d say not.
Story Of Isaac brings a bible tale to life to a vaguely olde English tune. To me, the bass here has always seemed too jaunty versus the harrowing tale being told, and it occasionally cuts right out at the ends of the verses. Weird. Best line: “You who build these altars, now, to sacrifice these children, you must not do it any more.” Amen, brother.
A Bunch Of Lonesome Heroes sounds almost identical to So Long, Marianne, except in story. Odd synth-like sounds (or, is that a guitar?) and that boinging noise again. Just the right amount of goofy to temper the power of his message, a sly wink while still getting his point across. And wow, has his voice ever deepened with age! There are some notes he hits here to which I doubt he could even come near, now.
The Partisan, another well-known tune, has super-cool and relentless guitar-picking, juxtaposed with such a simple bass line, which together totally carry the song. We even gets some accordion! Busting out some of the lyrics en francais is also a nice touch. I could never decide if this is a children/teen’s choir or a women’s choir. I suppose the internets could tell me, but I prefer to savour this mystery as there is no indication on the album cover.
Seems So Long Ago, Nancy is wistful and full of heartbreak. Poor Nancy, doomed from the beginning. And how prescient of him, to sing of 1961 and mention it seems so long ago (a whole 8 years!… and think of how long ago it seems to us now). Well-played. People talk about Leonard being morbid, but it’s really just an extremely intelligent, dark beauty and humour, and this tune proves it.
The Old Revolution carries on the sound from Side A, that vaguely-country-ish, bouncy and yet still gently morose sound. And again with the prominent boinging. Imagine being on tour as the guy who did that job every show. Weird and wonderful. But, never mind. This is another beautiful song-poem as only 1969 Leonard could muster it.
The Butcher plods along like an amateur at a campfire, but with another great story. Almost Zen-like, just how simple the song is gets carried away by the perfect match here of his vocals, words and music. Damn.
You Know Who I Am brings back the mid-tempo jaunt into poetry unmatched. There’s a reality, a sense of being, in these songs. The guitar bit after the choruses is also simply great.
Lady Midnight is another brilliant track, should be on the Hits collections (if it isn’t). Here we have a relationship that may or may not be healthy for either of those involved. And that repetitive last bit always amuses me, “You’ve won me, you’ve won me, my Lord.” Haha awesome.
Tonight Will Be Fine sounds like Leonard covering Johnny Cash which, in its own way, makes a certain sort of sense (when it isn’t disorienting). That same Cash bass line, a nicely-picked guitar. There’s even some harmonic whistling at the end. It’s one of the fastest songs on the record, which is a nice send-off to this contemplative, beautiful record. Most bands would put the fast stuff at the start of Side A, but not our Leonard, no. And in having it like this, it gives hope for the next release by leaving the listener wanting more. Always more.
Did I like this? Oh yes. We all need more Leonard in our lives.