This record has the reputation of being the moment when Cohen switched up the way his songs were arranged. But though there is some truth to that, it doesn’t bother me anywhere near how I imagined it would, which might have something to do with my imagining what it sounded like before I listened to it.
This is my seventh Leonard Cohen album but somehow I still don’t feel 100% confident assessing his songs in the context of his oeuvre. I guess that, even though I’ve heard many of them now, and most of his most famous albums, I still don’t feel like I have my hand on him as a songwriter as I do with some of his peers. (Or I’m just copping out…) I will say that, to the extent that I feel I can say where these songs sit in his catalogue, I do not think this is one of his best sets. I’m not sure I can articulate why exactly, except that there is both a sense of repetition – generated by things like “Chelsea Hotel #2” – and a sense that he is particularly angry on this record, something that I’m not sure suits him as a songwriter as well as it does some other songwriters.
But I actually like the arrangements and don’t find them as over-the-top as I was led to believe they were by reading about the record before I listened to it. Yes, there are lots of instruments, but their use reminds me a bit of Berlin, where it feels like the contrast between Cohen’s material and his performance and the arrangements adds to my experience.
Cohen himself seems particularly desperate as a vocalist at times, which I must say I find more appealing than him trying to sing more nicely – given the quality, or lack thereof, of his voice.
This feels like it could be a grower. But in order to find out I will have to listen to it many more times.