Most of Leonard Cohen's latter-day fame comes from his 1992 album "The Future". To many, it is his darkest work, perhaps because of the cynical venom loosed in that album's title track, perhaps because two of the album's tracks were used on Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers" and took on some of that movie's evil attaint. Whatever the reason, I must respectfully disagree. Cohen's 1971 album, "Songs of Love and Hate" deserves that title.
Now, "The Future" is, at times, deeply cynical. However, it is a middle-aged man with a glass of scotch sitting on his veranda, possibly holding court. He is absolutely comfortable with his cynicism. By contrast, "Songs of Love and Hate" contains not only maudlin cynicism, but spite, hate, bitterness, self-loathing. In interviews, Cohen confesses to feeling perhaps less emotion than he should, especially in relationships. Be that as it may, I don't think Cohen struggled as much or felt so deeply through any other work, nor, do I think, is any other work as introverted or as solitary.
His normal conscious clumsiness crosses the line several times into the realm of the high school spooky poet. But as usual, the words are secretly apt in so many places, that probably not a single song can be denied its grace.
The blades of political commentary are, by and large, limited to just a few lines, and then, like the first track "Avalanche", probably proscribed into a circle of allegory. Nevertheless, the aim is often staggeringly true as in "Last Year's Man":
"...we read from pleasant Bibles that are bound in blood and skin..."
The album's indisputable masterpiece is "Famous Blue Raincoat"— from the gentle tinkle of the opening chimes and the invocation of the holy hour of four in the morning (q.v. Bob Dylan's "Under Your Spell") to the paradoxically modest closing signature, "Sincerely, L. Cohen". For all the awkwardness and imperfection of "Diamonds in the Mine" and "Love Calls You by Your Name", this song is as tear-conjuringly beautiful to me now as it was the first time I heard it. It's also a great joy to play on the guitar if the time and mood is right. Say … midsummer at four in the morning.
"Dress Rehearsal Rag" remains one of my favorite suicide songs, especially the Santa Claus imagery. Extra points come for incorporating the haunting chorus of children on the refrain in the later verses.
The beer-hall atmosphere of "Let's Sing Another Song Boys" is probably its redemption, although lines like:
"His hand upon his leather belt now like it was the wheel of some big ocean liner"
make a mildly astute song into something that is sad and sweet and maybe just a little bit fun. I'm not sure why I like this song, but it certainly begs for sing-along status.
Finally, the album's beautiful, melancholy love ballad, "Joan of Arc" rounds out the album's Joan of Arc imagery (begun in "Last Year's Man"). This song, for all its length, is terribly beautiful and expresses an exquisite, poignant sentiment that I always cherish like my own bittersweet memories.
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