Two great albums
Pieter | Johannesburg | 01/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The songs on 1992's The Future fall into two broad categories: The Politico-prophetic (The Future, Democracy, Anthem) & the personal, covering a wide spectrum of emotion from love to disillusionment, that resonate with the first category in certain respects. The concluding instrumental Tacoma Trailer recapitulates and unifies both themes.
The apocalyptic title track contains oblique references to psychological disintegration and overt ones to the unraveling of long-standing alliances and to global wars. The underlying idea is one of bewilderment: "They said repent" but exactly what was meant? The marching beat signals the irony of the title Democracy, a tour de force with a lovely undulating rhythm and gripping lyrics that mention the The Sermon on the Mount. Jennifer Warnes is amongst the backing vocalists; this song has been covered by Judy Collins on her tribute album of the same name.
The solemn Anthem with its graceful rhythmic motion and choral vocals contains the comforting lines: "There is a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in," a concept which is extensively examined in the Zohar and Kabbalistic literature in general. The following words have the ring of prophecy: "I can run no more with that lawless crowd/while the killers in high places/say their prayers out loud". Chilling. The Future and Anthem are covered on the soundtrack tribute Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man.
Co-written with Sharon Robinson, Waiting for the Miracle is an understated, slow song with backing vocals by Anjani Thomas whilst Steve Lindsay produced & arranged the soulful cover of Frederick Knight's Be For Real with its lovely organ touches. From soul to country, the uptempo Closing Time, an irreverent blend of humor and religious imagery has a catchy tune, buoyant beat & impressive vocal arrangements for the voices of Perla Batalla & Julie Christensen.
Jennifer Warnes arranged and performed backing vocals on Light As The Breeze which must rate as one of Cohen's most sublime love songs, superbly integrating spiritual and romantic imagery. Billy Joel does a surprisingly sensitive rendition on the tribute album Tower of Song. The penultimate track Always is in the R&B tradition with soulful, even funky female vocals & snatches of conversation in the background.
The album closes with the atmospheric Tacoma Trailer, an instrumental where bass and synclavier recreate the interaction of Cohen's and the female vocals, creating a forlorn landscape of loss and melancholia to devastating effect. As Cohen's sole album of new material in the 1990s, The Future was a worthy follow-up to 1988's I'm Your Man, continues some of the themes on 1984's Various Positions and remains a masterpiece of poetry in song.
The 2001 album Ten New Songs is quite subdued and at first listen all the songs have the same slow gentle sound. But the old magic's still there on classics like In My Secret Life, Love Itself, The Land of Plenty and the elegant Alexandra Leaving.
Cohen covers familiar themes and one even recognizes lines from earlier songs, e.g. "I do what I am told," (That Don't Make It Junk), while the mood of The Land Of Plenty reminds me of Heart With No Companion from the Various Positions album, a devotional with a sentiment of complete resignation and acceptance.
By The Rivers Dark refers to Psalm 137 about remembering Zion and singing a song to the Lord by the rivers of Babylon. The most explicitly spiritual song The Land of Plenty is the highlight of the album and stirring in its melancholy and honesty: "For what's left of our religion/I lift my voice and pray/May the lights in the land of plenty/Shine on the truth some day".
I enjoy Cohen's unusual excursions like Death of a Ladies' Man and the esoteric Recent Songs as much as his classic acoustic style so I have no problem with the synth-pop production. I love Sharon Robinson's vocals as backing and where she duets with him on tracks like Boogie Street and the exquisite Alexandra Leaving.
For more than four decades Cohen has been constructing a magnificent body of work that stands up to serious scrutiny and the passage of time. What a pleasure then, for these ten additional songs of the same sublime artistry as his first offering of the new millennium. The follow-up, 2004's Dear Heather is even better and more varied.