http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/pdfs ... _01_10.pdf
Vol. LVI, No. 3
Friday, January 10, 1975
Poet of loneliness spawns losers' treat
By RON BINNS
"We're the sadists who like to sit alone," Cohen once wrote in a poem, and his music seems entirely aimed at solitary listeners, "my own shattered people."
On this, his fifth LP, Cohen is once again hoarse and miserable. But the style has changed considerably after his last disappointing Live Songs album.
Two of the finest tracks on the album are in his old style of slow finely-imaged melancholia: Chelsea Hotel #2 is addressed to an unnamed famous lady (the singer Nico, judging by gossip in old Rolling Stone magazines) who escaped Cohen and the New York in-scene. (And number two presumably because Valentina of the poem Valentina Gave Me Four Months in his latest collection The Energy of Slaves was number one.)
Take This Longing, equally slow and haunting, is a radical re-writing of an old Cohen song, Bells, previously only recorded by Buffy St. Marie on her album She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina. Bells sounded as if it was addressed to the same woman who appears in Chelsea Hotel #2, both set in New York and containing drug references (calling to mind the double-entendre of the "cold lonesome heroine" Cohen years for in Joan of Arc on his third album).
But whereas Bells goes "Your body like a searchlight in the prison of my needle" the new version continues "Your body like a searchlight, my poverty revealed." The melody has also been completely re-written, but either way it's a powerfully-moving song.
In dramatic contrast are two unusually fast numbers: Lover Lover Lover, a beautifully effective wail of longing where the connecting stanzas hardly seem to matter and all the impact comes from the ritual chorus "Yes 'n lover lover lover lover lover lover lover come back to me." There Is A War is a marginally less effective fast song which brings into the open Cohen's curiously courtly view of human relationships as a kind of ritual war or ceremony conceived in military terms (not insignificantly Cohen's backing group is called The Army). Field Commander Cohen returns us to this view of life as an emotional war, with Cohen on the side of the losers and victims, — a salvation army in fact.
Cohen's writings and his songs exist in a continuum with the romantic myth he has so successfully fabricated around his life. Is This What You Wanted? is unusual in that it connects with the less well-known, darker, ironic side of Cohen which is manifested in Beautiful Losers. This novel inverts and parodies the romance elements of his previous book The Favourite Game, and likewise this song establishes an ironic polarity to his usual lyrics of pain and nostalgia.
If the lyrical style edges off into a darker, lonelier view of the human condition than even his classic downer album Songs From a Room achieved, so equally the arrangement of the music has changed, with the intrusion of a banjo in Why Don't You Try, and a lush incongrous orchestral backing on A Singer Must Die. Most effective of all, perhaps, is the honky-tonk piano in I Tried to Leave You, which evokes the impression of one of those Bogart movies where the love drama is played out in a restaurant while the pianist tinkles in the background.
Perhaps the most surprising, and certainly the most effective song on the album, is Cohen's version of Greensleeves. Cohen has always worked within the central folk ballad tradition which deals in songs of love and nostalgia (Teachers on his first album was a complete steal from Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci), and on the penultimate song Who By This Fire, the not unexpected references to pain, suicide and barbituates are juxtaposed with a reference to "the merry merry month of May." Leaving Greensleeves echoes the cries of rage which close the songs One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong and Diamonds In The Mine from previous Cohen albums, and the crashing crescendo of harpsichord, orchestra and Cohen's screaming makes it an explosive climax to a classic album.