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Essential Music #4

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5th Apr 2006 | 08:45 pm
location: Brooklyn, NY
disposition: drunkon my second glass of wine
diversion: clacking of keyboards

Leonard Cohen was already 58 when The Future was released over thirteen years ago. His voice more bankrupt than ever, he flaunts the fact instead of hiding it, and delivers one of 1992's strongest albums. His croaking voice, something of a mutation betwixt Tom Waits, Nick Nolte and Don Johnson -- only deeper -- is as important to his songs as Dylan's harmonica used to be to his.

The Future, the singer/songwriter's eleventh album, finds Cohen hanging around with Christ, Stalin, Mozart, Charlie Manson, Johnny Walker, the Devil, and the Holy Spirit. Unstuck in time like Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, he is at once at Hiroshima, World War II, and witness to the Sermon on the Mount. He travels from the Berlin Wall to Heaven and Tiananmen Square, and back to America ("the cradle of the best and of the worst"). Sounding like some sort of S&M Nostradamus, he boasts of having seen the future, and reports, "It is murder.”

It's a tribute to Cohen's artistry that his truly poetic lyrics do not sink beneath the weight of such name-dropping and specificity. His lush melodies and exquisite arrangements, buoyed by his protracted romanticism, keep them afloat. He employs over 30 musicians and background singers to form the album's foundation, plus another forty or so string musicians and choir members. In addition to Cohen, the album credits five producers (including Rebecca De Mornay), and was recorded in no less than twelve studios. But the music hangs together under Cohen's disciplined vision and never sounds grandiose, as these sort of ventures sometimes do. He only overplays his hand once, trying to stretch Irving Berlin's ten-line "Always" out over eight minutes. He recovers, though, with the sweet and sexy instrumental "Tacoma Trailer.” On the heels of all the sometimes morbid, sometimes gorgeous verbosity that has come before it, it sounds absolutely, splendidly naked.

(Thanks to deborahb for inadvertently reminding me of this album. So it goes...)


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Comments {2}

NY Deborah

Wow, your post brought me back thirty years.

from: nydeborah
date: 6th Apr 2006 01:22 am (UTC)

I was in Israel at the time (delicious irony here, eh?) and feeling homesick as if it were a calling. I was working as a live-in child care provider while the parents traveled to Bangkok. After I got the children all tucked in for the night, I sat on the balcony of an arab villa in Jerusalem and listened to Leonard Cohen over and over until his music, lyrics, and that incredibly resonant voice coursed through my veins like a transfusion. Nice to know he's still got it. Thanks for the memories.

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from: chidder
date: 6th Apr 2006 01:49 pm (UTC)

Thanks for the kind words. Consider this review cross-posted.

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