Somewhat embarrassingly, I did not discover Leonard Cohen until I heard “Waiting for the Miracle” during the opening scene of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, and as much as I dug that movie, I was entranced by the soundtrack (compiled, assembled, and produced by Trent Reznor) and the two Cohen tunes in particular. The journey down the proverbial rabbit hole started from there. Over the next couple of years, I began to find Leonard Cohen’s music all over the peripheries of pop culture, be it Jeff Buckley’s stripped down and beautiful take on “Hallelujah,” or the soundtrack to Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, or as an almost direct lyrical influence on Nick Cave. He was everywhere if you looked hard enough. It was wonderful, and I now consider myself a disciple.
The music can be gentle, haunting, and lifting, and at times even menacing, whether it be the slow, acoustic folk numbers of Cohen’s early work, or the wearied, gospel-tinged opuses he would set his deep and aging voice to later on. And then there are the lyrics. Cohen reportedly would spend days, weeks, years writing his poetry before setting it to music, crafting deep and philosophic verses that take multiple listens and thought to decipher. It is my humble opinion that he is the best lyricist of the last 50 years…with the aforementioned Nick Cave coming in a close second.
As much as Cohen’s work has garnered its fair share of fans and applause, there is a redheaded stepchild amongst the artist’s output, the oft-maligned collaboration with producer/crazy person Phil Spector on 1977’s Death of a Ladies’ Man. On the album, Cohen’s normally minimal and quiet tones are replaced by Spector’s signature “wall of sound,” mixing in some jazz, doo-wop, R&B, and funky undertones to create a different kind of beast altogether. The lyrics are more straightforward than earlier efforts, but Cohen’s vocals can get a little buried in the mix, with layer after layer of instrument and overdub covering them up…but that’s kind of Spector’s thing. The story goes that Spector locked Cohen out of the sound booth and kept him away with armed guard while he mixed the record like some kind of mad scientist without any input from the artist. And while this irked some fans (and Cohen too understandably), it’s still an effective recording, and probably one of my favorites. You just have to listen.
“True Love Leaves No Traces” and “Paper Thin Hotel” are beautiful and wistful ballads and “Iodine,” a jazzy and rambunctious toe-tapper. “Don’t Go Home with Your Hard On” is a snappy and uncharacteristic foray into raunch and smut. And the title track is easily one of the best songs of Cohen’s career, an epic and sprawling tale of love, sex, and the end of an affair.
Like most of Cohen’s work, Death of a Ladies’ Man demands multiple listens, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to do that. As per usual, if you like what you hear below, then get out there and buy the damn record.
Chester, it’s been awhile since we’ve heard from you…
From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.