Leonard Cohen died at the end of last year leaving with us with his final album “you want it darker” a personal reflection on life and death that along, David Bowies Blackstar could be seen as bookends to 2016.
Maybe known best for other peoples covers of his song Hallelujah the one thing that has always been clear is his skills as a wordsmith. Cohens ability to poetically weave complicated struggles with life into powerful songs has always been his strong point. However I personally feel that as his music progressed it was the production that let his words down. Sounds that at the time were of the moment, now sound dated and detract from the vocals rather than enhance them. It’s when we strip away the instrumentation to its simpler forms that the work really does shine through and this is why his earlier albums still stand out as some of the best. Especially on the album Songs from a room where the small band accompaniment provide enhancement rather than destruction from his words.
Yet after saying his best points are his abilities as a poet, I’m going to pick a cover as my track of the week. In this instance Leonard Cohen recites the folk song La Complainte du Partisan firstly in English and then in French. The song focuses on the thoughts of a french resistance fighter during world war II and Leonard Cohen delivers them with a mix of reserved melancholy and hope. He inhabits the role of someone struggling with a dangerous and near impossible task with a steely eyed determination and belief that as long as him and people like him continue they will succeed no matter the costs.
This delivery is also enhanced by the instrumentation. The accordion reflects the songs french roots without loosing its subtlety and becoming a pastiche. Instead it resembles the hope and nationalism the resistance fighter feels which drives him on his quest. The Acoustic guitar and bass give a feel of historical accuracy whilst also providing a the structure for the track.
The decision of mixing slow fades into and out of the track also give the feeling that your being introduced to a story that started before and will continue on after the end of the track as the character continues his quest. Its as compelling now as when it was written because it contains and delivers an authenticity that’s hard to capture on record: