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4.7 out of 5 stars160
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 18 May 2006
This album is superb value, two generous discs crammed with very special music. It spans the whole range of Cohen's output (up to "Ten new songs") and you can hear his voice becoming deeper and more melancholy as the tracks go by.

Whilst everyone will have his favourite Cohen track, it must be said that there is not a bad track in the collection. Whilst all are clearly "Cohen", there is within that heading a tremendous range of moods and styles from the driving rhythms of "Democracy" to the more reflective favourite "Suzanne". In the later songs Sharon Robinson (the co-writer) plays a big part, but I find these songs just as good as the "pure" Cohen: in any case one of Cohen's strengths is that he changes in style, but still remains distinctly himself.

As always the lyrics are superb and blend in perfectly with the music: really the two cannot be separated. For me the very ambiguity and different possible interpretations of the words of such songs as "Alexandra leaving" add to their universality and give them an appeal to so many people (and make them suitable for so many moods).

When I purchased this disc I had not listened to Cohen for some time and had forgotten just how much I liked him and just how unique he is. I regard it as one of the best discs in my collection
33 comments169 of 170 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
This 3.0 edition with its third disc is a magnificent retrospective. The first two discs draw heavily on Cohen's legendary earlier work like Songs of Leonard Cohen, Songs from a Room and New Skin for the Old Ceremony (Disc One, Tracks 1 to 11), and on later albums like Various Positions, I'm Your Man, The Future and Ten New Songs. The live albums are not represented at all, a great pity in the case of Live Songs of which Passing Through and Please Don't Pass Me By are particularly rare & unknown.

No doubt it deserves five stars - particularly since the artist himself made this selection - but I do miss some favorites, like the graceful The Window from Recent Songs (1979), Heart With No Companion from Various Positions (1985), which in my opinion would have been a better choice than Hallelujah (compare John Cale's great cover of this song on the I'm Your Fan tribute album) and Take This Waltz from I'm Your Man (1988).

I completely agree with the choice of tracks from The Future and Ten New Songs, especially the magnificent Alexandra Leaving, now joined by The Rivers Dark on the 3rd disc. Famous Blue Raincoat is joined by Love Calls You By Your Name to represent Songs of Love and Hate (1971). This album's masterpieces like Joan Of Arc and Diamonds In The Mine, amongst my favorites, have been omitted.

The Third Disc

Besides the aforementioned Love Calls You By Your Name and By The Rivers Dark inspired by Psalm 137 about singing by the rivers of Babylon (markedly less optimistic than the Boney M megahit!), it contains one further track each from Songs From A Room, New Skin for the Old Ceremony, Death of a Ladies' Man, Recent Songs, Ten New Songs & Dear Heather.

Gravitas at its gravest, Death of a Ladies' Man has a majestic arrangement in which waves of multi-layered doom-laden vocals unfold in crests and in troughs where a single female voice momentarily caress Cohen's. The instrumental sound is similarly constructed, so when waning a single instrument or hypnotic instrumental pattern comes fleetingly to the fore. With its overall drone-like ambience this song is as oppressive as Lou Reed's The Bells on the Street Hassle album.

This is a great compilation of Cohen's poetic and melodic genius, infused as it is with a unique spiritual quality. One can trace the maturing of his vocals; it became distinctly weightier and wearier from the 1992 album The Future. The trend has continued down to Dear Heather, and it makes the contrast between his voice and the female vocals even more sublime.
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on 11 November 2002
...the it has has to be this one.
Cohen is the man -the only true poet attempting a musical context. More articulate critics than me will always claim Dylan as the laurel wearer but his two and a half hour compilation is the absolute refutation. His work is not 60's, it is not bedsit it has an enduring quality very much akin to the singer's own feted inspiration, Lorca.
The range yet the consistency of the man is incredible (an aspect well articulated in the liner notes). The sparse guitar accompaniment of the first album tracks through the quintessential 80's greed indictment, 'I'm Your Man' to the 21st Century measured resonance of the heart-rending 'Alexandra Leaving'
Neither can I fault the breadth and balance of the compilers choice - who have gone for quality rather than fair sampling (thus rightfully neglecting everything from 'Death of a Ladies Man'). Additionally, all the tracks have been sumptuously remastered, an expression which meant little before this purchase but here means subtle layering of the never-intrusive backing instrumentation and providing Cohen's delivery with an even more cavernous echo. Whilst probably targetting newcomers to Cohen's work , this last fact makes for an enticing package to even the most die-hard completist.
Of the 300+ albums I own, covering a range of genre, this has immediately become the most important. I recommend it unreservedly to anyone who still holds the primacy of lyric in contemporary music in high regard.
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on 4 May 2007
The voice is the first thing you notice. The early poetic renditions on such classics as "Suzanne", "Sisters of Mercy" and "Famous Blue Raincoat" are presented in a voice that is deadpan but not as gruff as in later years. This was at a period when he was a well kept secret and with a style and presentation that not everyone took to. Move onto disc 2 and you notice how the voice deepens and the songs become bigger. One thing that Cohen has never failed to deliver is quality songs with curious stories to tell. He has an almost hymn-like or gospel touch on a lot of his work, usually enhanced by superb backing singers and wondrous musicians and arrangements.

I move between both of his periods with equal ease, but I find the latter stuff more appealing these days. Some people could sing the contents of the telephone directory given the right voice, he is one of them. "Democracy", "Tower of Song", "First we take Manhattan" and "Hallelujah" are stand out tracks but I defy anyone not to get lost in "Closing Time". This is by far my favourite. A fun song, with so many catchy hooks it just pulls you off your seat and invites you to dance with the nearest partner. You can almost smell the smoke and alcoholic fumes as if you are drinking in the bar with him. A tremendous talent......but what great assistance from his backing singers.

This is a great selection of his work. If you are a fan, you'll want it in your collection. If you are just curious, buy it.........it's a great introduction.
0Comment45 of 48 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
This magnificent retrospective draws heavily on Cohen's legendary earlier work like Songs of Leonard Cohen, Songs from a Room and New Skin for the Old Ceremony (Disc One, Tracks 1 to 11), and then again on his later albums like Various Positions, I'm Your Man, The Future and Ten New Songs.

Of course it deserves five stars - especially since the artist himself made this selection - but I do miss some favorites, like the graceful The Window from Recent Songs (1979), Take This Waltz from I'm Your Man (1988), Heart With No Companion from Various Positions (1985), which in my opinion would have been a better choice than Hallelujah (John Cale has a great cover on the I'm Your Fan tribute album) and Jeff Buckley renders it splendidly on Grace.

I completely agree with his choice of tracks from The Future and Ten New Songs, especially the magnificent Alexandra Leaving. It is perhaps understandable that he ignored Death of a Ladies' Man in its entirety, but this much maligned album has its treasures such as True Loves Leaves No Traces and the lovely, light country number Fingerprints. If Cohen doesn't like the production, why doesn't he re-record some of those great songs?

Another mystery is the skimpy contribution - only Famous Blue Raincoat - from Songs of Love and Hate (1971). That album's masterpieces like Joan Of Arc and Diamonds In The Mine count amongst my favorites in his body of work. Oh well, there's no accounting for taste and it is the artist's prerogative to make his own selection. So enjoy his poetic and melodic genius, infused as it is with a unique spiritual quality, and his weary voice of resignation like a dark painting, more often than not framed with gold by those heavenly female vocals.

And don't forget the various tribute albums, some of which contain real interpretational masterpieces. Besides the aforementioned I'm Your Fan, Jennifer Warnes' Famous Blue Raincoat is brilliant, as is Judy Collins Sings Leonard Cohen: Democracy; her elegant renditions of Night Comes On and Sisters Of Mercy with its intricate instrumentation are true masterpieces. The 20th Anniversary edition of the Jennifer Warnes album contains four previously unreleased tracks including a stunning live version of Joan of Arc in addition to the studio duet with Cohen.

Besides John Cale's Hallelujah, the outstanding tracks on I'm Your Fan are Bird on the Wire by The Lilac Time and True Love Leaves No Traces by Dead Famous People. The most memorable songs on the soundtrack album Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man include Winter Lady by Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Tonight will be Fine by Teddy Thompson, Bird on a Wire by Perla Batalla and Sisters of Mercy by Beth Orton. The tribute titled Tower Of Song is not quite as memorable as the others although it does contain a gem or two. I recommend Marianne Faithfull's version of Tower of Song on her superb album Vagabond Ways.

Of course the master returned in 2004 with the incomparable Dear Heather, accompanied by the beautiful voices of Sharon Robinson and Anjani Thomas on further Cohen classics like Morning Glory, On That Day, Dear Heather, Nightingale and The Faith. Let's hope there's a lot more in the vaults.
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on 27 November 2006
Well I cannot believe I have lived for 42 years without listening to a Cohen Album.I tried this on spec seeing the reviews and having been a big Dylan/Springsteen fan for many years.For me this album has been like meeting a soulmate in a slightly run down but all too comfortable bar and wishing you had met them much earlier in your life!!!!!

Songs like "Democracy" and "I'm Your Man" cover the dark side of politics and personal relationships superbly and the former should be essential listening for the Neo-Cons of the White House.

I will not go over everything already written but this double disc set seems a top introduction to Cohen's development and style.I have already ordered 2 more albums from his back catalogue and I feel this discovery could hit my bsank balance hard in the near future.Totally recommended.
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#1 HALL OF FAMEon 19 November 2002
Lenny gets the same double-cd/definitive compilation treatment from Sony as Miles Davis, Bob Dylan & Babs Streisand. Which is nice- a friend recently wondered about Leonard Cohen, I urged him to but 'Greatest Hits' and an epiphany subsequently occurred. He;s one of those non-singer singers who writes great songs like Dylan and Tom Waits- you'll probably 'get him' sooner or later. And the sooner the better!
These two discs take in the majority of his career after writing some poetry and the odd-Joycean inflected novel like Beautiful Losers. The only album that is avoided in the horrifying Death of a Ladies Man- though the version of Don't Go Home with Yr Hard On by David McComb (RIP) on the I'm Your Fan (1991) tribute is well worth checking out!. Cohen is like Serge Gainsbourg or Scott Walker- a deep dark must...
Disc One has many of his well known 'hits'- Sisters of Mercy, So Long Marianne, Suzanne, Bird on the Wire and faves like Hey That's No Way to Say Goodbye, Chelsea Hotel, Who By Fire and Famous Blue Raincoat (the title of another great Cohen tribute album by Jennifer Warnes). The version of Hallelujah is not as great as John Cale's from I'm Your Fan (which bizarrely turned up in Shrek!) or the Cale-inflected version by Jeff Buckley (on Grace). My favourite song on this disc is The Stranger Song, which features in the great Altman film McCabe & Mrs Miller. The disc ends with three classics from 1988's I'm Your Man: the title track, Everybody Knows & the hilarious Tower of Song (though be warned, very 80's synths!).
Disc 2 continues with another three tracks from I'm Your Man- Ain't No Cure for Love & First We Take Manhattan being the most wonderful. We then get a healthy portion of 1993's brilliant The Future album- the title track and Waiting for the Miracle featured in the brilliant Natural Born Killers (the latter again in the great Wonder Boys). Songs like Anthem & Democracy sound extremely relevant in these troubling times...The final tracks stem from last year's Ten New songs- though that sample should send you heading towards that album- which seemed to be very overlooked...
This is the ideal Leonard Cohen introduction/compilation - though the absence of songs like Avalanche and True Love Leaves No Traces is mildly disturbing. Still, a definite Xmas choice for all the family!
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on 11 August 2009
If you love Leonard Cohen's songs, don't have any of his CDs, and hesitate before buying one, go no further and buy this one. It has all his famous songs and Leonard's "golden voice" sounds at its very best.
If you want to know what the songs have become, 30 or 40 years later, on a big stage, with lots of wonderful musicians, buy the CD "Live in London". I feel the two CDs sort of complete each other but on the whole, you get more songs on "The Essential Leonard Cohen". On top of 20 well-known songs found on both CDs, "The Essential Leonard Cohen" will also give you "The Partisan", "Famous Blue Raincoat", "Chelsea Hotel", "Take this longing", " The Guests", "Alexandra leaving", "Night comes on", "Waiting for the Miracle", "Love itself" (but no "Boogie street", no "Gypy's wife" and no "I tried to leave you"). All in all? 31 songs you will appreciate and love to listen and listen over and over again (I do and you might get under the spell too)
If you are new to Leonard Cohen's songs, this CD is without any doubt the one for you to buy. It will certainly give you "the essential".
If I only had to have ONE CD with the great Mr Cohen's songs, this would definitely be "the one" I would possess and cherish.
Hope this will help you to make up your mind.
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Cohen has had a long career spanning form the late 60's to the present day. As a result he has made many tracks that fans would consider `essential', and any effort to compile a best of album is likely to result in some disagreement.

However, I feel that Columbia have done a great job on track selection, with selections form right across Cohen's career right up to and including `Ten Songs'.

The tracks on offer here show just how consistent Cohen has been over the years. Right from the beautiful `Suzanne' - a great track for any album to open with - through to `Love Itself', this is track after track of seemingly simple, yet also deep and complex music. Great melodies, lyrics to make you think, excellent guitar work and distinctive vocals. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to like this material.

This is an excellent collection, and a great way for newcomers to get into Cohen's music. Be warned though - I can almost guarantee that after listening to this you will start to collect all his albums!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 March 2012
This is a 31 track double album to immerse yourself totally in. Whether you want a nice all-round compilation of his best material or as an introduction to the Man With the Golden Voice, this is indeed an excellent selection.

Starting out with early classics such as Suzanne and covering each era of Cohen right through to The Letters and Tennessee Waltz (here Live) from 2004's album 'Dear Heather'. From his early poetical songs and through his dark and brooding (and my favourite album of his and one of my all-times, too) 'I'm Your Man' which carries actually all but two songs (Jazz Police and I Can't Forget are left off) on here.

His riveting lyrics and velvet dripped voice can turn to joy, tears and everything else between. Not melancholy as he is sometimes mistook for but heartfelt, emotionally charged and ultimately beautiful. It's a bit of a bargain, too and great for Ipods as Mr Cohen is a wonderful man to travel with.
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