So many of these songs have made it into the broader culture – either through covers or through the songs actually getting played places I would hear them – that I actually thought I had heard this record before. I can’t find any record of that, but I sure got a sense of musical deja vu.
That’s a testament to the strength of the songs here. Though some of them are a little more direct than I was expecting for Cohen, it’s a near-uniformly great set of songs, which stands among his best. Had he recorded these songs at another time in history, maybe I would really like the record. I might even acclaim it as a near-masterpiece of something like that. If only.
But the problem of late ’80s/early ’90s Leonard Cohen is one of production: all the best of what 1988 has to offer is on display here, including layers of keyboards – including a full display of the different options on these keyboards – gated drums (cymbals are the devil!), cheesy “smooth jazz sax” and bass guitars replaced by keyboards much of the time. No matter how strong the songs, I cannot get over the sound of the record, which is one of the most ’80s records I think I have ever heard. (Want some incongruity in your life? Listen to those soulful backing vocals atop those soulless keyboard bass parts and programmed drums.) In fairness to Cohen, some of the drums and bass appear to be real, but the songs with the actual musicians have other ’80s touches.
I’m glad the horrible ’80s experiment with “modern” sound died. I just wish so many people hadn’t been sucked in. Maybe there’s a tribute album out there without ’80s drums on it.
All songs were written by Cohen, except where noted.
- “First We Take Manhattan” – 6:01
- “Ain’t No Cure for Love” – 4:50
- “Everybody Knows” (Cohen, Sharon Robinson) – 5:36
- “I’m Your Man” – 4:28
- “Take This Waltz” (Federico García Lorca, Cohen) – 5:59
- “Jazz Police” (Cohen, Jeff Fisher) – 3:53
- “I Can’t Forget” – 4:31
- “Tower of Song” – 5:37
- Leonard Cohen – keyboards, vocals
- Jude Johnstone – vocals
- Anjani Thomas – vocals
- Jennifer Warnes – vocals
- Mayel Assouly – backing vocals
- Evelyine Hebey – backing vocals
- Elisabeth Valletti – backing vocals
- Jeff Fisher – keyboards
- Bob Stanley – guitar
- Sneaky Pete Kleinow – pedal steel guitar
- Peter Kisilenko – bass
- Tom Brechtlein – drums
- Vinnie Colaiuta – drums
- Lenny Castro – percussion
- Michel Robidoux – drums, keyboards
- John Bilezikjian – oud
- Richard Beaudet – saxophone
- Raffi Hakopian – violin