Sunday, 6 November 2011

Leonard Cohen - Songs Of Leonard Cohen - Album Review [6th November 2011]

Stranger At The Party.

A hero, who already had made a profound difference to Cohen as a poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, wrote poems, adorned his pages with pen and pencil drawings, and composed music on a nylon-stringed guitar. Living in Montreal, Cohen sought to learn this language of Flamenco-style guitar playing also, and set to lessons with a Spanish immigrant who lived close behind his home. He completed but four lessons before calling up to arrange the fifth, where he learnt that the teacher had killed himself. Shortly from this time, Cohen claims to have written most of the songs from 'Songs Of Leonard Cohen.'

I see a great palace at night-time, lit up with people and celebration, just across from a dark and deep river. I see a small boy stunted at the near riverbank, holding a painting showing the host of the party. The painting was large, twice his height, both tall and wide. His eyes are glazed as he longs hopelessly for the life across this newly discovered problem in the terrain. All of a sudden, from behind his shoulder, he sees a man drag a small warped wooden boat to the waters edge. Reinvigorated by new possibility, the boy begs the stranger to help him across. He explains the painting is a gift which receives a quiet support, and he is welcomed into the boat with his painting. He sits staring eagerly from the bow as they set sail, whilst the ferryman rows steadily. At two-thirds the distance travelled across, the boat starts to break and let in water. Suddenly panicked, feeling water at his ankles, the boy looks around to the ferryman for guidance only to find him disappeared. The boy seizes the oar and paddles hard to shore but the more he does so, the more the boat falls apart beneath him. As the final fixtures break, he grips tightly to the painting amongst the life of the river, shuts his eyes and focusses on the laughter from the party, the last sounds he thinks he will hear.  When he next awakes, he is soaked at the further bank by the palace, spread across the frame of the picture. As he stands and adjusts himself to his unlikely survival, he sees the picture has been distorted far from its original composition. All colours are blurred into waving shapes from all directions to all extremities. Disorientated and shocked, the boy heads to the door of the palace and is greeted by concerned guests. Given a change of clothes, food and some rest, our traveller is requested to tell his story with the picture. Songs of Leonard Cohen, for me, is born of spirits from this story.

Trying to explain his position as a poet, Cohen said "my real concern is to discover whether or not if I'm in a state of grace" and he goes on to qualify that term - "A state of grace is that kind of balance with which you ride the chaos that you find around you." I find this a particularly important comment regarding the weathers surrounding the creation of this record, and how they shape it. The focus on the ego as the subject matter is shown immediately through the cover art design showing exclusively a large portrait of the songwriters face. The title itself focussed on who has written the songs, the print of his name larger than the 'Songs Of'. The sound of the record also communicates a lone soldier, placing the nylon guitar and vocal considerably higher in the mix. There was a popular trend at the time in American studios to mix from the drums and percussion, up through the instruments. The producer John Simon, perhaps with this tendency, pushed such orchestration, whilst Cohen stood strong against this idea. Simon would then go on to work on Music From The Big Pink with The Band a year later, a less contentious music for his sensibilities, also another classic. What chaos was resisted by Cohen for preservation of the songs Songs Of , revealed itself instead inside the songs, as a haunting affliction in the minds of them. All accompanying orchestration seems to speak as if calling from far away, memories holding from a wire with a hook. The trumpets in Master Song for example, a pastiche of a crusade, a war scene extending the metaphor of the lyrics as the story is recalled. Recollection follows through the narrative of the record, from the unnamed traveller in The Stranger Song, to gratitude given to the Sisters, and indeed Marianne.

The waltz time is used as a positive defiance in the record and focusses on the more certain statements, where as mystery and the veils of deception are wrapped deep within torrid picking patterns on the guitar. His appreciation of post-modernistic techniques of contradictory view points and twists in his lyrics are encrypted further through their paring with a sound I believe treated symbolically. Humour, too, appears in the journey.

The record concludes with Cohen screaming a melody painfully after requesting to come into the storm in the amusingly titled One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong. His voice is mixed distantly behind an owl whistle but as the track fades, it is the last audible sound on the record. He is a patient here, and after unburdening his complaints, is still requesting a return to battle, and is incapable of finding it before this record silences him. And so, it is truly a start.

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