I’ve only just got around to listening to “Thanks For The Dance;” a posthumous album by Leonard Cohen. Cohen’s son took poetry recorded before his death and added instrumentation to it to create the album, which works especially well on the opening track “Happens to the Heart.“
Leonard Cohen’s strongest point was his poetic verse and its delivery through his rustic baritone voice. He always managed to conjure the dark sinister corners of the mind and take you there, often delivering one-two punches in his rhyming couplets that left me as the listener in awe. The end of “Happens to the Heart“ is another example, leaving you with something to stew over on the tracks conclusion.
When you have lyrics this good and delivered perfectly in context, the instrumentals surrounding it should always play second fiddle. For me this was often Leonard Cohen’s downfall. I found that often music would get in the way of what was being said. Fortunately “Thanks for the Dance“ reverts to traditional instrumentation and a supportive role.
“Happens to the Heart” features nylon stringed guitar (prominent in early music by Leonard Cohen) strings, woodwinds and piano. It cements the lyrics in a sound that will stand the test of time. Building them into something greater without removing any of their raw power:
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:
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