Monday, November 23, 2009

CD Odyssey Disc 58: Leonard Cohen

OK, since I am about to review one of the greatest records ever made, a quick announcement - right below this entry (posted earlier tonight) are some photos of my latest figurine - a "Lunging Vampire". I am quite pleased with it. Take a look if you are inclined.

That said, the next disc in the CD Odyssey (rolled randomly) is so good it features in the sidebar of this blog as one of the five "greatest...albums...ever."

Disc 58 is...Various Positions

Artist: Leonard Cohen

Year of Release: 1984

How I Came To Know It: As I noted in my first review of a Cohen album (way back in July when I rolled "Songs of Love and Hate") I have known Cohen since I discovered his poetry in junior high. Various Positions has been in my life almost as long - I think I bought this back in about 1989.

How It Stacks Up: The 10 studio and 1 live Cohen albums I have are all incredible. Amidst that incredible group of albums, "Various Positions" is #1. His first couple albums come close, but they get edged out by the musical growth Cohen shows on this album.

Rating: 5 stars, because sadly this system only goes to 5.

Succinctly put, "Various Positions" is a desert album island. Not only is the album strong throughout, of the 9 songs (Like Sabbath's Vol. 4, Cohen achieves greatness in under 10 songs), I'd say easily 5 of them are 5 star songs by any measure - about 7 are by my measure.

As ever, there is no greater pure lyricist as Cohen. It isn't really fair, I suppose. He was an award winning poet before he was a songwriter. Still, the work here is strong even for him.

I really like the range of topics on this album, and the range present even within each individual song. "If It Be Your Will" takes an intense personal commitment of love and make that love universal. "Hallelujah" wraps up personal love and religious love until you're not sure which he is singing about. "The Captain" takes a political protest, and turns it into an internal struggle of right and wrong.

This is an album where the lyrics will haunt you, while the siren's call of Cohen's oft-underrated music writing draws you in. The music isn't just beautifully written, it is also beautifully arranged, and whether it is strings or piano, or guitar, Cohen always seems to know just what instrument calls forth the right emotion to go with the lyrics. In fact, a big (and my first) shout out to Producer John Lissauer, for everything he might have had to do with that.

Some lines in these songs have stuck with me for twenty years, and I still revel in hearing Leonard sing them out. Here is just a sampling:

From "Heart With No Companion"

Through the days of shame that are coming
Through the nights of wild distress
Though your promise count for nothing
You must keep it nonetheless.

From "Night Comes On"

The crickets are singing, the vesper bells ringing,
the cat's curled asleep in his chair.
I'll go down to Bill's Bar, I can make it that far,
and I'll see if my friends are still there.
Yes, and here's to the few who forgive what you do,
and the fewer who don't even care!
And the night comes on; it's very calm;
I want to cross over, I want to go home,
but she says, "Go back, go back to the world."

From "If It Be Your Will"

It if be your will
that I speak no more
and my voice be still
as it was before;
I will speak no more,
I shall abide until
I am spoken for,
If it be your will.

This album has been with me through a lot, and at each stage, it has taken on new levels for me. When I was a single young man in my early twenties, it was a comfort to me when I needed it, and an inspiration when I sought one.

As I aged, it morphed seamlessly into something intrinsicly part of my married life. In fact, "Dance Me To the End of Love" is the theme song of my wonderful relationship with Sheila. We even have one of those corny stone plaques in the bathroom quoting the title.

It isn't corny for us. It's beautiful, and so is that song, and so is this album.

Best tracks: All tracks.

1 comment:

Sheila said...

I love this album too - thank you for introducing me to Leonard. Love you!