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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Embrace and hold us tight, all your children dressed in rags of light'
This 1984 album, the last of Cohen's folk masterpieces and one subtly spiced with country, never grows stale due to the intricacy of its arrangements - vocal & instrumental - while perennially revealing deeper layers of metaphysical & symbolic significance. Or as one ages one understands better! Particularly sublime is the interaction of male & female vocals calibrated to...
Published on 15 Mar 2002 by Pieter Uys

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Laughing Len
all the way to the bank for one song alone (you guess), last of the great releases until old idea's appeared to rekindle a great career
Published 6 months ago by Richard Clark


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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Embrace and hold us tight, all your children dressed in rags of light', 15 Mar 2002
By 
Pieter Uys "Toypom" (Johannesburg) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Various Positions (Audio CD)
This 1984 album, the last of Cohen's folk masterpieces and one subtly spiced with country, never grows stale due to the intricacy of its arrangements - vocal & instrumental - while perennially revealing deeper layers of metaphysical & symbolic significance. Or as one ages one understands better! Particularly sublime is the interaction of male & female vocals calibrated to bring out the best in both. The devotion and the vocals of Anjani Thomas and Jennifer Warnes make a major contribution to the music's enduring beauty.

Cohen's gift of melody & rhythm finds buoyant expression in Dance Me to the End Of Love which may sound catchy and even frisky like a simple pop tune but if one pays attention multiple meanings & possibilities emerge. In contrast, Coming Back to You unfolds slowly and solemnly through a graceful melody wed to imagery that navigates delicately between romantic & divine love. The two tracks The Law and The Night Comes On evoke something of John Berryman's poetic sensibility ... The Moon and the Night and the Men, The Song of the Tortured Girl and above all, Sonnet number 34.

The Night Comes On may be the absolute highlight of this album, a rare gem ranking amongst the greatest of Cohen's songs. Like assembling a pearl necklace, it strings striking images of the domestic & personal, the universal, the spiritual, historical and prophetic on a thread of longing. As the song unfolds, the symbolism unleashes an almost supernatural power that stirs the psyche hinting at or conjuring vague specters of ancient memories. There are close correspondences in the song Anthem on The Future.

Being familiar with John Cale's soaring version of Hallelujah on the tribute album I'm Your Fan and Jeff Buckley's on Grace, Cohen's own sounds somewhat monotone and subdued, still beautiful but constrained within a narrow range compared to the aforementioned. The tale of David & Batsheba that started with desire, led to murder & a string of tragedies but was ultimately transformed into the redemptive, relies in the songwriter's version on the atmosphere created by the female vocals rather than his voice.

The words of the rhythmic lilting song The Captain with its tinkling piano, tangy country flavor & ironic comment on "some country-western song" contain & conceal more than they reveal as they undulate on the tune & the beat. Then the tempo drops for the cold & alienating Hunter's Lullaby that in arrangement (not mood) resembles the 1979 album Recent Songs. The message is baffling but may refer to the subconscious impulses that isolate & lead us astray. There is a sense of menace & desolation without the redemptive introspection of The Beast In Me by Nick Lowe on his album The Impossible Bird.

Cohen's mysticism, masked or open, infuses every song. It manifests most painfully in Hunter's Lullaby & most inspiringly in The Law, The Night Comes On & The Captain while in Heart With No Companion it shines like a thousand suns. The healing power can go everywhere and reach anyone, only & exactly because it has been shattered. It recalls the crack in everything that allows the light in on the aforementioned Anthem, a reference to the shattering of the vessels as explained in the Arizal's The Tree of Life: Introduction to the Kabbalah of Isaac Luria as preserved by Rabbi Vital, and less clearly in the Zohar.

The impassioned Heart With No Companion combines a lilting uptempo beat & hypnotic tune with lyrics contemplating disillusionment, shattered dreams & immobilizing fear exacerbated by a terrifying prophecy: "Through the days of shame that are coming/through the nights of wild distress". These negatives are all erased, however, by the lines: "Now I greet you from the other side/Of sorrow and despair/With a love so vast and shattered/It will reach you everywhere". The defiance expressed by: "Though your promise count for nothing/You must keep it none the less" is in fact the antidote to nihilism, affirming the primacy of spirit and of the word. Land Of Plenty on Ten New Songs covers some of the same territory: "For the Christ who has not risen/From the caverns of the heart/For what's left of our religion/I lift my voice and pray/May the lights in the land of plenty/Shine on the truth some day".

If Hunter's Lullaby seemingly submits to despair whilst Heart With No Companion directly defies it, the final song is a prayer of intercession on an ancient pattern, the same to which The Lord's Prayer conforms. With praise and reverence, If It Be Your Will intercedes not only for the tormented souls in hell but for all the children in their "rags of light," the remnants of the shattered vessels. As a sung prayer it is as moving as Calling My Children Home performed by Emmylou Harris on Spyboy although it is serene where Emmylou's song yearns with burning heartache. The one represents Rachel weeping for her children whilst the other calms the tempest with trust in the Eternal Divine, knowing that Spirit in mercy overrules The Law (of cause & effect).

Revisiting Anjani and Jennifer, I highly recommend the first's inspiring album The Sacred Names on which she sings in Hebrew, Ancient Greek, Aramaic, Portuguese & English, and the second's sensitive interpretations of Cohen compositions on her Famous Blue Raincoat, the Twentieth Anniversary edition that has been enhanced by four extra tracks: The Night Comes On, Ballad of the Runaway Horse, If It Be Your Will & Joan of Arc live in Antwerp where the Novecento Orchestra, West Brabants Operakoor & De Tweede Adem support Jenny & her band, adding depth to Cohen's elegy to the Maid of Orleans.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lennie meets the ugly eighties...., 22 July 2009
This review is from: Various Positions (Audio CD)
With one notable exception, the major music figures of the sixties and seventies failed to adjust to the heritage-baiting musical climate of the eighties: Dylan, Mitchell, Clapton, McCartney et al all came a cropper during that decade and finished it with their artistic reputations in tatters. Bizarrely, the one to buck the trend was Leonard Cohen (we'll argue later over whether Mr. C has ever been a 'major music figure', shall we?), who seemed to find himself right at home in the world of programmed synthsizers and drum machines. This, his first album of the decade, is almost a sonic manifesto: out with the old and wooden, in with the shiny and metallic.

Sounds awful....yet, Various Positions is a triumph: song for song, this is probably Leonard's best record. There is not one weak track on here and three of the peaks of his recording career are included: Dance Me To The End Of Love, Night Comes On and the (now) all-conquering Hallelujah. But those are only the well-known ones: we also get the affecting ballad Coming Back To You, the chilling The Law, the mournful Hunter's Lullaby, the jaunty-with-a-twist C&W ballad The Captain and the powerful 'modern hymn If It Be Your Will. Heart With No Companion, a fine song, doesn't quite get the treatment it deserves on here....the version currently being performed by Leonard and his excellent touring band reveal it for the great song it always has been.

I shall always treasure this album for personal reasons, as it was the second LC album I bought, after the debut. It crept out almost unnoticed (and wasn't even released in the USA, so low was Leonard's stock over there), but I knew it was a masterpiece from the first hearing. Hopefully, you'll agree with me.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Other Side Of Sorrow And Despair, 9 Sep 2007
By 
pikeyboy (carmarthen, uk) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Various Positions (Audio CD)
Cohen made three classic albums with John Lissaeur at the helm: 1974's New Skin For The Old Ceremony, 1979's Recent Songs, but at the apex of these achievements stands 1984's Various Positions, in that it paved the way for a new audience to discover Leonard Cohen afresh. This wasn't done by just adding the odd synthesised drone here and there, for there is the same continuity of themes and musical genres threaded consistently through the works (compare New Skin's 'Why Don't You Try?' or 'I Tried To Leave You' alongside Recent Songs' 'Came So Far For Beauty' or 'The Smokey Life', i.e., and you'll find they sit naturally next to tracks like 'Hallelujah' or 'Coming Back To You', whereas 'Night Comes On' and 'If It Be Your Will' would not have sounded out of place on Songs From A Room). What appears so much different about Various Positions is more to do with Cohen as an artist: he sounds rejuvenated and almost ready to make that protean leap towards making that one true classic that would positively redefine him for generations to come. I refer, of course, to I'm Your Man. I was recently tickled to read of a conversation around this time between Leonard and Bob Dylan, where Leonard asked Bob how long it took him to write 'I And I' from the album Infidels. "About ten minutes," was the forthright reply Bob gave. "How long did it take you to write 'Hallelujah'?" "Three or four years," deadpanned Cohen, later explaining: "it really took about five years, but I didn't want to look like I was dragging my heels or anything." The point being: you can appreciate the precision and care that Cohen took in recording certain tracks on Various Positions. 'Hallelujah', apparently, was whittled down from dozens of seperate verses, all presumably containing a unique rhyme such as 'do ya', 'overthrew ya', 'fool ya' (you get the picture), just as similarly 'Democracy' from The Future was whittled down from hundreds of different verses. This is craft of a higher order.
Elsewhere, we are treated to such gems as Dance Me To The End Of Love, one of those definitive mission statements that Cohen seems to throw out effortlessly, even though we know this can't possibly be the case. 'Coming Back To You' returns to Leonard's country roots with classic ambiguous imagery: is it literal, or devotional, or both? 'The Law' has a slight reggae lilt, and 'Night Comes On' is a masterpiece of darkness and shade. Side Two of the original kicks off with the masterful 'Hallelujah' and ends with the anthemic and positively hymnal 'If It Be Your Will', taking in faux-country ('The Captain'), dark nursery-rhyme ('Hunter's Lullaby'), and the celebratory 'Heart With No Companion' along the way. The whole proceedings presaged a huge seismic shift in the perception of Leonard Cohen as some doom-laden troubadour. Had he not gone on to record the collossal I'm Your Man, I feel many would have regarded this as his best by a long chalk since the first album. As it stands, Various Positions, remains Leonard's transitional masterpiece, and you can do lots worse than shell-out a fiver or less to have this in your collection.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leonard Cohen at his best, 8 Feb 2005
By 
Keith_Joseph (West Berkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Various Positions (Audio CD)
This is one of my favourite Cohen CDs, as it has no tracks I tend to skip past. As usual it is Cohen's strong lyrics (more poetry really) and the quality of his voice that holds the simple backing tunes together. Being exposed to country music as a child by my father I particularly like, well love actually, 'The Captain' (he even gently mocks the format in the lyrics) but there other strong songs in there as well you may prefer, like 'The Law' or 'The night comes in' or 'Hallelujah' [yes, the fantastic song from Shrek written by LC & sung by Neil Diamond]. However I do find the superb track 'The night comes in' rather sad and uncomfortable listening [even more than 'The story of Isaac' on Songs from a room] - although music that's powerful enough to move you certainly can't be considered a bad thing. Cohen's words are often interestingly cryptic, moving and deeply reflective, rather than being outrightly political or 'protest'. If you are new to Leonard Cohen I'd also get the later 'I'm your man', plus perhaps 'The Future' and 'Songs from a room'. The recording quality of all these re-released Cohen CD's is very good, and this one is no exception. They are also great value when offered for under a fiver.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Various Positions: Leonard Cohen - Hallelujah for the music of Leonard Cohen, 29 Sep 2011
By 
Victor (Hull, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Various Positions (Audio CD)
This 1984 release was Cohen's 7th studio album, and one of his best. In a bold move he decided to combine his famously minimalist style with the electronic stylings of the mid eighties. Cohen showed that, handled well, synthesisers could be used to good effect, and some great music results.

At the heart of each track is Cohen's intimate, almost poetic, lyrics. Telling intensely personal stories, with tales of love, loss, regret and a degree of political activism, each verse feels lovingly crafted with each word placed carefully for maximum effect. Cohen's style is intelligent, literate and with the occasional flash of humour, making for some memorable lines. Backing this are simple, understated arrangements. These punctuate and support the singing, never overpowering it. This combination of Cohen's musical vision with the instrumentation and production of the day leads to a satisfying musical experience.

There are some great songs here. The best known is probably the much covered Hallelujah. I have heard many versions of this (many from buskers who habitually butcher it) but the original is still the best. There is a feeling of passion in Cohen's singing that just can't be matched. Dance me to the end of love is a classic album opener, setting the tone with its meaningful lyrics that conjures up strong imagery in the mind, backed by a catchy, hummable tune.

A classic entry into Cohen's oeuvre. Five stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Various Positions: Leonard Cohen - Hallelujah for the music of Leonard Cohen, 29 Sep 2011
By 
Victor (Hull, England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Various Positions (Audio CD)
This 1984 release was Cohen's 7th studio album, and one of his best. In a bold move he decided to combine his famously minimalist style with the electronic stylings of the mid eighties. Cohen showed that, handled well, synthesisers could be used to good effect, and some great music results.

At the heart of each track is Cohen's intimate, almost poetic, lyrics. Telling intensely personal stories, with tales of love, loss, regret and a degree of political activism, each verse feels lovingly crafted with each word placed carefully for maximum effect. Cohen's style is intelligent, literate and with the occasional flash of humour, making for some memorable lines. Backing this are simple, understated arrangements. These punctuate and support the singing, never overpowering it. This combination of Cohen's musical vision with the instrumentation and production of the day leads to a satisfying musical experience.

There are some great songs here. The best known is probably the much covered Hallelujah. I have heard many versions of this (many from buskers who habitually butcher it) but the original is still the best. There is a feeling of passion in Cohen's singing that just can't be matched. Dance me to the end of love is a classic album opener, setting the tone with its meaningful lyrics that conjures up strong imagery in the mind, backed by a catchy, hummable tune.

A classic entry into Cohen's oeuvre. Five stars.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cohen encapsulates the diversity of the Canadian experience, 7 July 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Various Positions (Audio CD)
I first discovered Leonard Cohen many years ago at the tender age of 16. Melancholy, complex, his music captivated, yet puzzled me. What relevance did his lyrics have for one stuck out on the Canadian prairie?
Revisiting his works as a more mature listener, I am struck by the intricacy of his themes: the exploration of the catholic-jewish-anglo-french-canadian ethos of the 60's-70's-and-80's that somehow transcends all to become the epitome of the cosmopolitan experience of every-person.
In Various Positions, Cohen begins to sacrifice his characteristic rough diamond quality for the more polished sound of his later works. Still, "If it be your will" is a classic exploration of male submission, while "Hunter's Lullaby" has that hypnotic dirge-like quality that one has to love if one loves Cohen. My favourite is "Hallelujah" - is this Cohen in jubilant mode?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dance Me To The End Of Love', 20 Sep 2012
By 
This review is from: Various Positions (Audio CD)
In this album Leonard Cohen displays the full range of his genius.

It begins with the richly melodic `Dance Me To The End Of Love', with it's distinct Mediterranean/Israeli style, which remind me of hot romantic summer nights, by the sea.
It also includes such magnificent works as the passionate and intense love ballad, `Coming Back To You' and the fascinating mix of romantic and satirical `Night Comes On', the biting satire of `The Captain' and `Heart With No Companion' which embodies a heartfelt and deep explanation of the terrible experience of loneliness and isolation.
The greatest track on this album however, is the majestic and spiritual `Hallelujah':

"They say there was a sacred chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It went like this, the fourth, the fifth
the minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah"

I also love Jennifer Warnes' rich, melodic, sensual voice, which particularly adds beauty to `Dance Me to The End of Love' and `Hallelujah'.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Back to the world, 14 Feb 2012
By 
GlynLuke (York UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Various Positions (Audio CD)
This 1984 album, Cohen`s seventh studio recording, following the wonderful Recent Songs five years earlier and preceding the unexpected I`m Your Man almost four years later, has over the years received some mystifyingly mixed press - on these pages too I see.
The presence here of the single finest version (by anyone) of what must now be his most famous song, Hallelujah, is, appropriately enough, cause for celebration. LC has sung this live and it can be found on the sublime Live In London, but nowhere has he sung it with such restrained grace as here. Not only that, but on the original studio version on Various Positions - such a droll title, Len! - he observes his own happily quirky rhyming of "do ya/-lujah" and "fool ya/-lujah" which adds so much to the brilliance of this great song. When he sings it live he abandons the rhyme, singing merely "do you/-lujah". I know it`s his song, but that`s sheer madness!
The album opens with one of his best compositions, and a signature song since he wrote it and one he tends to begin concerts with: Dance Me To The End Of Love. This is an irrepressible, Jewish/Greek-sounding song I can imagine moving to, in soft inebriation, in a taverna somewhere crepuscular and warm.
Coming Back To You is a lovely ballad with a lovely tune and a tenderly loving lyric.
The little known The Law is Cohen in ironic, semi-biblical guise:

"There`s a law, there`s an arm, there`s a hand"

An underrated, not to mention quite catchy, song.
Night Comes On is simply beautiful. An hermetic, contemplative, wonderfully sung and played tour-de-force that will disarm and captivate the listener at first hearing. It reminds me of the effect Dylan`s superficailly similar Not Dark Yet, from Time Out Of Mind, had & has on me. Each of the five verses is interrelated to the others while seeming to describe, through poetic metaphor, different places and
situations, beginning perhaps (it isn`t spelt out) with a Mary the Madonna figure, then taking in a father, wife, lover, until the final verse by which time our narrator is getting on in years...

"The crickets are singing, the vesper bells ringing
The cat`s curled asleep in his chair,
I`ll go down to Bill`s bar, I can make it that far
And see if my friends are still there..."

Each verse ends with a variation on the following ambivalent, wearily optimistic line:

"...but she said, Go back
Go back to the world"

It is one of Cohen`s most deeply felt and most moving songs - a poem, a meditation on the stages of life, a hesitant prayer to life itself.
Three of the songs on `Side Two` are not very well-known but are all superb: the relatively uptempo The Captain, the slow-ish, hypnotic Hunter`s Lullaby...

"Your daddy`s gone a-hunting
He`s lost in the forest so wild"

...and the deceptively upbeat Heart With No Companion, a terrific song with an almost childlike melody and some stinging lyrics:

"I greet you from the other side
Of sorrow and despair
With a love so vast and shattered
It will reach you everywhere"

And later:

For the heart with no companion
For the soul without a king
For the prima ballerina
Who cannot dance to anything"

Finally, a song that comes into its own live as well as on VP, the quietly sincere prayer, If It Be Your Will. Gently ravishing.
I think this is one of the great Cohen albums, despite its admittedly slightly generic musical accompaniments and less feisty female singers than we`re used to. Incidentally, there`s nothing in the booklet to tell you who is playing and singing with Cohen on VP, which is a shame. But you do get the printed lyrics.
The last word should be Leonard`s last word.

"And draw us near, and bind us tight
All your children here, in their rags of light
In our rags of light, all dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will..."
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5.0 out of 5 stars Various Positions, 25 Mar 2009
By 
This review is from: Various Positions (Audio CD)
I recommend fans re visiting this album, its one of Leonard Cohens finest.

The tracks 'Dance Me to the End of Love' & 'Hallelugah' are well know & well loved but there are other tracks on this album that pull at your emotions.

'The Captain' is really up to Leonard Cohens fine standards with a poignant theme of war, death & destruction of human values mixed with Cohens subtle humour that gets you singing at the top of your voice.

The other track that hit at my heart strings and made me think is 'Heart With No Companion'. Cohen hits right at the heart of emotions and sometines the very baffling rite of life while at the same time producing just the right mix of poetry and music.
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Various Positions by Leonard Cohen (Audio CD - 1989)
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