Leonard Cohen's 1968 debut album: stark, cynical, imperfectly beautiful.
Many of the lyrics here are clumsy/honest and more so than the "normal" later Cohen that so many of the young people these days are in love with. Yet, for each song on this album I know at least one person who counts it as his favorite. While "Master Song" sounds like it would go over big with the S&M crowd, "Teachers" is actually the winner among those, and for good reason.
Many of these songs have been re-recorded since with Mr. Cohen's latter-day "scotch-and-cigarettes" voice, angelic backup singers, and broad instrumentation. Although the originals have their place, he's obviously learned a lot about showmanship and performance since 1968. The redux of "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong" and "The Stranger Song" are notably potent recreations, as we'll see later.
The most irreplaceable moment on the whole album for me would have to be the last 44 seconds of "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong", which while seeming silly sometimes, still manages to form the perfect punctuation mark for the song. Without this and the electric guitar at the two-minute mark of "Master Song", I could almost do without this album simply because I think there are better recordings of all of these songs.
"One of Us Cannot Be Wrong" for all the "high school poetry club" feel of its verse (including its too-smart title) is probably my favorite on this LP. Somehow this song manages to be trite and effective at the same time and reminds me of the tear-jerker "Snoopy Come Home" in this respect. It has an effective and almost naïve simplicity. Plus, when he sings the "I suppose that he froze" line on a later live album, it never fails to release a flood of nostalgia that it has no right to release…and often gives me a shiver.
"Sisters of Mercy" will always be a personal favorite, especially the second verse. I think it stands on its own without my commentary, but I will say that despite the acclaim that "Suzanne" has won, "Sisters of Mercy" is the only truly immaculate song on the album.
Sparser in this way than later albums, "Stories of the Street", the only vaguely political track on this LP. Despite the loftiness of the allegory the song makes several striking points to anyone willing to decode it, and really amounts to a beautiful poem even if you don't "get it". The hexagram:girl::suicide:rose analogy is just the beginning of Mr. Cohen's struggle with the two sides of his wishing well. He is a man with two binding contracts written on the same heart, as later verse will testify.
That song also gives rise to my two favorite couplets on the album:
O lady with your legs so fine, o stranger at your wheel
You are locked into your suffering and your pleasures are the seal
We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky
And lost among the subway crowds I try to catch your eye
The latter of which continues to stop me dead with its profundity.
→ Next album: Songs from a Room (1969)