Monday, 2 January 2012

Leonard Cohen - I'm Your Man - Album Review [2nd January 2012]

A CV to Aphrodite.

I'm not sure when I'll be able to declare such, but looking a successful, strong and banana-clad 53 years old, Cohen's confidence to pronounce "I'm Your Man" with his 1988 release can only be taken with gratitude for its application. With bold humour, tightly-refined dances in the modern synthesised sound, and love letters to his favourites: Wine (not explicitly mentioned, but understanding his personal pre-gig rituals at this time, along with the joke "I can't forget, but I can't remember what" this record nods at least to the grape-juice) - Women: Ain't No Cure For Love, Take This Waltz, Everybody Knows, I'm Your Man) - and Song (Tower Of Song, Jazz Police.)

Moving into a musical arena from studying poetry, Cohen's use of language has excelled as part of his song-writing from the off. On this record I feel touched by its concision, aimed mostly at humour, often jokes. This whit supports charisma necessary of the suitor suggested in the records title. Sometimes double entendre cheek, "If you want a doctor, I'll examine every inch of you," "There's a concert hall in Vienna, where your mouth had a thousand reviews" - Or thrown-away sarcasm, "Everybody knows you've been faithful, give or take a night or two" - or creating characters of whimsy, "I can't forget, but I can't remember what" - all clever word-play -"My friends are gone, my hair is grey, I ache in the places that I used to play."

This humour and style is supported perfectly in the music of this album. Whilst Everybody Knows describes characters unaware of the fallibility of their knowledge, John Bilezikjian's oud runs like Puck around the forest of the sound, stitching the farce at his discretion. The transition from its primarily minor key, to the relative-major for the chorus refrains repeating the title lyric furthers the joke, with such tonality, normally used for celebration and positive promotion, now attached to our errant traveler. A ludicrous coronation, like a crowd clapping the Emperor's new clothes. For the albums title track, Cohen has a hi-hat swinging a swagger as he proposes all he can offer to be our man. Such nonchalance, all trials contemplated whilst shaving his fingernails. His spine is resting somewhere else on the track. That ludicrous synth refraining the melody sounds like "the beast who won't go to sleep" to me.

Do not be fooled that whimsy has replaced a heart here! After all, how could he honour his premise if this was not present also. Love resounds on this album, stronger and more confident than ever. His angels provide soprano lines, guiding and protecting our singer born with the golden voice throughout. In First We Take Manhattan, confessing their love, both real and synthetic. Romantic poetry is evoked in a pastiche of Christina Rossetti's Remember Me.

Jennifer Warnes incomparable talent is brought up through the song to a necessary duet with Cohen's last verse in Take This Waltz. With them both singing, "I'll kneel to the flood of your beauty, my cheap violin and my cross" I am forever changed in the romance of this record. The strings both running free as young love with counter lines, and also as resilient as older lovers, with their staccato holding the three-time like life itself.

And a deeper love is brought along with this song: Cohen constructing it from one of his hero's (Federico Garcia Lorca) words, which he translated into English and married with original music. This is my favourite song on the record. Seconded by force of First We Take Manhattan. Hearing this song, I imagine the Jewish people never losing again.

His historical appreciation is furthered by the song Jazz Police a disguised compliment to the freedom brought with jazz music. Set in an apocolyptic scene, referencing biblical lineage, here, I believe Cohen plays the part of a naive civilian trying to understand the overwhelming beast of this new sound.

This song for some reason makes me think of an Outer Limits episode which depicts two humans in a cell, both being treated daily by a captor. They realise that they are being changed into scalic creatures through this drug. The conclusion of this show is the reveal that one of the bodies was being transformed back to its original state, where as our victim is being converted for the first time. This song to me makes me think of discovery re-writing history. How what seems new, actually may have always been here. Without more omnipotence of course there will always be the debate of progress or regression. Is Cohen in trouble with the Jazz Police? Obviously not. Check that piano solo! One of my favourites.

Finally, in another choice epilogue, Tower Of Song celebrates the craft itself. Cohen orchestrates it minimally, allowing the angles of the edifice to show their glory above musicianship. Routed in a blues-progression and referencing Hank Williams, it is a great homage to the progression of modern song, particularly using a crude keyboard pattern of the decade. The line "They don't let a woman kill you, not in the Tower Of Song" makes fun of the relentless subject carried through blues and country music. The joke is sweet because it has obviously been a great comfort to Cohen's emotions throughout his listening life. Cohen plays an awkward blues-scale solo in the middle of this song, which receives the most glorious applause within his live concerts (like that of a quick nip at the harmonica at a Dylan concert). By including such a naive solo, Cohen is celebrating the standard of the musicians he has had the fortune to play with. By including the solo, he is showing that he is thankful for their gifts. By writing such a song, to include such a solo, he is showing what he can offer the society. By the audience applauding this moment so loudly live, they are thanking both Cohen and his band for both of these things. 

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