Saturday, 7 January 2012

Leonard Cohen - The Future - Album Review [7th January 2012]

Judgement Cohen.

In 1992 Leonard Cohen contemplates 'The Future.' It is the end of Bush Senior's (one of killers in high places) Presidency, giving way to a Clinton administration (another). The Soviet Union is to dissolve shortly. Iraq is now more stable following the conclusion of The Gulf War. His introduction to the album is a soliloquy from a character repulsed by new moral surroundings. His future 'is murder.' He alludes to a conditionality he was given hope through (when they said repent, I wondered what they meant) but his ignorance to assess 'their' request propels him into the hand-cuffs of this new world, punishment for his action (or inaction). The backing vocals echo as a Big Brother in the choruses. This dystopia is painted further in 'Waiting For The Miracle,' The work of Mozart is reduced to having the effect of bubble-gum in a culture distracted and stretched, in need of a something to change. There is no attempt to articulate this medicine. Along with plodding bass-line and repeated minor sequence, the traveller on this horse and cart is aimed with blind faith down a road to the horizon, no guarantee that hope will follow, only knowing that what was the other way has failed them. This miracle is more of a roulette bet.

He shows the eternal struggles of his dove's path, in Anthem, encouraging pilgrims to 'ring the bells that still can ring' for amongst many prisons and prisoners are cracks by which the 'light' can get in.  This reminds me of eastern concept of Wabi-Sabi, change over time. Imperfection with time, paradoxically creating the perfection. Although not perfectly aligned, both these ideas offer me great solace when facing a challenge. The end of the dance is confronted by desperate partying in 'Closing Time.'  I feel a sense of insanity amongst the parade. Not quite to the complete desperation described in a party scene in Hitlers bunker in Oliver Hirschbiegel's film Downfall, but with this song the reverence is tainted behind the eyes. I'm still quite confused about how this song makes me feel. In his recent live performances, however, this song converts to a pure celebration. The audience claps along, a gesture of thanks for the generous set just given. For Cohen's recent concert setlist, it is an attempt at ending the show, however, true encores are begged for and given. You may find such a version of Closing Time on his Live In London, 2008)

I omitted commenting on Democracy earlier for it is a curious attitude displayed amongst its neighbours. Its tonality is righteous and positive, lending the chorus line an almost naive (or I'm leaning more to an ironic) sense of optimism about democracy in America. The use of a marching pattern on the snare, supports the journey to new times - 'At the cradle of the river and the sea.' Perhaps this bit of the future is a bit further ahead?

These songs are certainly Cohen cadencing an aeon. The size and grandeur of the age is articulated in the length of all the individual songs (the shortest, an untypical 4:33 min. but most exceeding 6 min. and the longest 8:04 min.) and the album duration of 59:37 minutes.    We have considered the Handcuffs, and the Dove on the front cover. Now Light As A Breeze and his interpretation of, the prolific and renowned songwriter, Irving Berlin's Always carry the album almost to its completion, on the wave of a Heart.

If you'll indulge me, I really haven't paid much attention to Light As A Breeze much before but looking at it more closely now it seems almost the most like of Cohen's songs, chordally, to influence my song woodforthetrees.

Music is celebrated through the body of woman in both of these songs. Cohen is well practiced in this shape. Superb solos from Bob Metzger and Dean Parks for each Light As A Breeze and Always, respectively. It is a generous tribute for Cohen to make Berlin's song the longest on his record, extended through solos and the romance of the jam. Along with Light As A Breeze playing through 7:17 minutes, Cohen shows that the Heart is as relentless as the challenge of his desert songs.

A team of new producers (including his then lover Rebecca De Mornay) help Cohen take his synthesised new sound into more luscious territory, and although I have a preference for the starker, harder sound of I'm Your Man, there is something more sensitive here, with a wider range of emotions being able to be expressed. Technically an improvement, still for me... From timid beginnings, he is now referencing musical genre and sound masterfully. Although he has judged his playlist well - this one made harder by asking for that extra length of attention from the listener - it is a stretch. Like 2001, A Space Odyssey, in spite of its brilliance, the days in our lives need special requirements before we are capable of an enjoyable and full-filling digestion of the work.

I mentioned a great live version of Closing Time earlier. Likewise Live In London and Songs From The Road provide improved versions of a good supply of songs from this album. This apart as an argument for not returning to The Future as often as some of his other albums, many of the songs on this record stand deliberately solo to me. They are whole often in themselves. Particularly the more sociological in topic. Epics need space aside one another. It's like a collection of epics. It's all very good you made it this far Frodo, but get your rucksack back on, there's more... is how I feel after each.

Just as we're exhausted from the undefeatable vow of our suitor in Always,  (and the previous journey of the record) Cohen's first ever album instrumental piece, Tacoma Trailer, takes us to our 'City of Destiny'. It feels like a slow reprise of the marches previously stated on the album, summarising the albums content as we are bid a farewell, soaked in warning. This is not a comfortable destination. [Where Is My Wife? I hear your sound from that in this Chris] A delicate piano line floating in the breeze over a sombre and dark ocean of synthesizer. The strings fall in Orwellian line to mimic the piano line as a the sound fades.

It is no surprise from the drama in this particular set of songs that a number of them got used in Hollywood movies. However, I would like to focus on Waiting For The Miracle turning up in Curtis Hanson's Wonder Boys. Perhaps one of Hollywood's great powers is the ability to make us dream freely that anything could be possible. In this movie, it is possible that Leonard Cohen is playing on the stereo at a happenin' party and no-one is leaving. Ah. May this one day be a reality! 'Til then, party for one, my room.

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