The Rolling Stone Album Guides

Ask and answer questions about Leonard Cohen, his work, this forum and the websites!
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The Rolling Stone Album Guides

Postby Yankovic » Wed Jul 30, 2008 12:35 am

I'm still trying to find the first and second editions.

Leonard Cohen

The Rolling Stone Album Guide, 3rd Edition, 1992

Canadian poet, novelist (Beautiful Losers, 1966) and hautee monde cult figure, Cohen crafts elegant, bittersweet mood music for dark nights of the soul. While hyper-romantic at heart, he avoids mushiness by cultivating a veneer of Europeanized world-weariness a la Jacques Brel or Brecht-Weill. Like Bob Dylan, he's a deft non-singer, his ragged delivery compensated for by cinematic arrangements--on early work, his huskiness and offhand acoustic guitar jostle film-noir strings; later (Recent Songs, from 1979) he played with a mariachi band, and was accompanied by such non-pop surprises as the Middle Eastern oud and the English horn.

The Songs of Leonard Cohen (1968) remains his finest hour--his themes of love, death, betrayal and the conflict of flesh and spirit conveyed hauntingly through simple, repetitive melodies (Cohen understandably favors minor chords, and his lyrics stress suggestion over statement). Death of a Ladies' Man paired him with Phil Spector in an odd bid to join Spector's pop-orchestral Wall of Sound bravado with Cohen's high-art seriousness and occassional mystic concerns. He's also experimented with French Canadian song structures and, effectively, with duets with Jennifer Warnes (on Recent Songs and Various Positions): her bell-like singing sets off his dry-voiced pleading like gilt framing an abstract artwork.

Judy Collins and Joe Cocker ably covered Cohen ("Suzanne," from Songs of Leonard Cohen, and "Bird on a Wire," from Songs From A Room, respectively), and, continuing with such gems as I'm Your Man (1988), Cohen exerts considerable influence on the folk-poet revival of Suzanne Vega and others.

The Rolling Stone Album Guide, 4th Edition, 2004

Leonard Cohen is the Jewish Bryan Ferry. In the excellent liner notes of his 1975 The Best of Leonard Cohen, he explains the suave cover photo: "I rarely ever look this good, or bad, depending on your politics." That sums the man up. Running for the money and the flesh, especially the flesh, Cohen was the literary rogue who strummed his acoustic guitar and croaked of love and its torments. He emerged from Montreal in the 1960s, an acclaimed poet and novelist well into his thirties before he even made his first album. Yet for all his poetic angst and folkie sorrow, Cohen could never hide the fact that he was getting more rock-star booty than any Canadian before or since. Whispering in his glamorously tattered voice, he still makes his songs sound like sinful confidences shared over bottles of bloody-red wine.

He already had his style down on Songs of Leonard Cohen. No one has ever accused him of being a real guitarist, but for some reason, you can always tell it's him playing. In "Suzanne," "Master Song," and the peerless "So Long, Marianne," he sounds bemused by his own romantic travails, inventing what critic Robert Christgau called "his tuneless, grave, infinitely self-mocking vocal presence." His songs are strictly verse-chorus-verse, with hardly any bridges or fancy bits. Robert Altman used three of the tunes in the soundtrack to McCabe & Mrs. Miller, adding to Cohen's legend.

Songs From a Room is thin and sparse, weighed down by "Bird on a Wire," which became a schlock standard. But Songs of Love and Hate is the gangsta shit -- even the one with the children's choir is so intense you can't turn it off. Cohen sings about jealous rivals ("Famous Blue Raincoat"), demon lovers ("Avalanche"), cold and lonesome virgin warrior goddesses ("Joan of Arc"), and God knows what else ( "Let's Sing Another Song, Boys"), bursting with wit and imagination. New Skin for the Old Ceremony is almost as great, featuring the boho romance "Chelsea Hotel No. 2." Note: Oral sex on unmade hotel beds is almost always a bad idea, since those bedspreads are laundered usually about once every five years, but songs about it are still cool.

Since then, Cohen has recorded sporadically -- he apparently has the novel idea that before you make an album, you should wait until you have an album's worth of good songs. The only total waste is the Phil Spector collaboration Death of a Ladies' Man. Recent Songs has "Came So Far for Beauty." (Next line: "And I left so much behind.") Various Positions has "Hallelujah," which unexpectedly became Cohen's signature song after Jeff Buckley revived it in the 1990s. I'm Your Man perversely adds cheesy Eurodisco synths and disco-girl vocals to some of his bleakest tunes: "Everybody Knows," "First We Take Manhattan," "Tower of Song." The Future has a hilarious eight-minute send-up of Irving Berlin's "Always," plus political/spiritual statements along the lines of "Anthem" ("There is a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in").

By now, Cohen was bigger than ever, inspiring doom disciples such as Kurt Cobain, Trent Reznor, and Nick Cave. He spent most of the 1990s on a mountaintop Zen Buddhist retreat, while Cobain was down in Seattle singing, "Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld/So I can sigh eternally." Ten New Songs offered "Alexandra Leaving," "In My Secret Life," and "You Have Loved Enough," the epitaph Cohen has been writing for himself throughout his career. Of his three live albums, the good one is Field Commander Cohen. Cohen's record company has released three best-of anthologies, but bizarrely, none of them include "Joan of Arc."
They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
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Re: The Rolling Stone Album Guides

Postby Will-Dockery » Sat May 06, 2017 9:52 am

I have what must be the first two editions of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, one from around 1978, and another from around 1983, I think.

If the Leonard Cohen entries are still needed, I can type them up... I haven't looked round yet to see if they re on the site, elsewhere.
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Re: The Rolling Stone Album Guides

Postby Roy » Mon Dec 17, 2018 6:55 pm

Will-Dockery wrote:
Sat May 06, 2017 9:52 am
I have what must be the first two editions of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, one from around 1978, and another from around 1983, I think.

If the Leonard Cohen entries are still needed, I can type them up... I haven't looked round yet to see if they re on the site, elsewhere.
I just saw your post now. Please do post them. Thank you. Yes, 1978 and 1983.
The Official Halls of Fame Biographies of Leonard Cohen

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