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1 May 2011

Leonard Cohen - 'Recent Songs' (Columbia)

I suspect that Recent Songs is not one of the best-selling Leonard Cohen records, which is somewhat of a shame because it's a solid work with some songs you haven't heard a million times (because I, for one, will strangle myself if I hear 'Suzanne' again, as great as it might have been once to me). Part of Recent Songs' sleeper status is just timing - by the late 70s, the zeitgeist of ten years past was no longer present infuse these songs with the profundity that keeps us coming back to songs like 'Who By Fire' forty years later. Instead we get a somewhat older, more restrained Cohen focused perhaps a bit more on songcraft than before. Some songs are directed to specific people, such as 'The Traitor', while the more familiar grandiose poems ('Ballad of the Absent Mare') might be outtakes from a previous record. It's a longer record, with some stretched out jammy bits and a definitive placement into the 70s folk-rock mileau. Maybe it's just me, but on 'The Gypsy's Wife' I feel the bassline has just a bit of boogie-funk to flavour it, and it wouldn't be out of place on a Fleetwood Mac record of the same time. Likewise, there's a lot of electric piano to flesh things out. This musicality, sadly with all musicians uncredited on my copy (except for background vocalist Jennifer Warnes), is a nice addition, when sounding 1970s. There's also some elements that are more retro in approach, though the violin solos are lively and exciting; any guitar noodling stays focused. This LP came after the Cohen-disavowed, aborted Phil Spector album Death of a Ladies' Man and in some ways the music feels like a reaction to that gross, plastic sheen -- occasionally with uneven results. I find the retro parlour feel of 'Came So Far For Beauty' to bit a bit too slow for me, and the French-language cover tune, 'Un Canadien Errant', is just too close to Edith Piaf for me. But the "back to his roots" Cohen, at one time the Cohen I wanted, lacks the bitterness and desperation that makes Death of a Ladies' Man so amazing (even if it took me a good 15 years to come to that conclusion). When I do end up with a vinyl copy of that one, I will probably pull out Recent Songs even less frequently (and I already barely play this one).

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