Songs From A Room: Cohen followed up his debut album with another masterpiece, this collection of magnificent songs of solitude, heroism, and spiritual yearning. Besides The Partisan, a folk song about the French resistance with its beautiful French verses and female vocals, all compositions are by Cohen.
The most popular number, Bird On A Wire that has been covered by artists as diverse as Judy Collins, Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker, Rita Coolidge, Tim Hardin, The Neville Brothers and Jennifer Warnes. The opening lines of Bunch Of Lonesome Heroes: "A bunch of lonesome and very quarrelsome heroes/Were smoking out upon the open road," calls to mind the journey to Mordor in Lord Of The Rings.
Other highlights include The Story Of Isaac and The Old Revolution, in both of which Cohen's characteristic Biblical imagery surfaces, and the somber Lady Midnight with its many levels of meaning. Seems So Long Ago is a confessional biographical dirge whilst You Know Who I Am is a delicate devotional poem with esoteric undertones: "I am the One who loves changing from nothing to one".
The mood lightens up on the closing track Tonight Will Be Fine with its catchy melody, lilting rhythm and erotic lyric to end the album on a more optimistic note, although even here the sadness is just a sigh away. Cohen's sublime music has a transcendent, spiritual quality. These haunting songs "from a room" have lost none of their poetic impact after 3 decades; their grace, elegance and beauty shine on.
New Skin For The Old Ceremony represents the artist's open break with the early folk simplicity of his classic albums Songs Of Leonard Cohen, Songs From A Room and Songs of Love and Hate (on which it was already surfacing on tracks like Diamonds In The Mine), as it harnesses a wider array of instruments including trombone, viola, percussion, mandolin and trumpet.
This fuller instrumentation with stronger emphasis on percussion, together with a less restrained vocal style, make the sound more varied, taking it closer to the rock tradition here. It is clear that this direction (e.g. Is This What You Wanted?) culminated in the Phil Spector-produced Death of a Ladies' Man (1978), a nightmare for the artist but beloved by many.
His distinct spirituality is much in evidence on tracks like Chelsea Hotel No. 2, Lover Lover Lover, Take This Longing and the somber and solemn Who By Fire, a song inspired by a solemn prayer relating to the concept of the Book of Life with special significance to the High Holy Days Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In a slight tweak, Leonard has modified the chilling finality of the words, shifting the emphasis to the search for the Eternal Divine.
The themes are the same but the humor is more overt. The previous year's live album, Live Songs, display an even greater intensity and raw power. So although not all the songs here live up to the striking compositions on his first two albums and some sound harsh by comparison, New Skin For The Old Ceremony confirms Cohen's unusual gift for arresting metaphor, intriguing symbolism & imagery layered with allusion.