Top positive review
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One of his best
on 30 January 2012
This is a truly great Leonard Cohen album in my view - something I've not been able to say for too many years. The music often sounds delicate but has a laid back robustness about it, too, with his trademark simple melodies and a very welcome varied sound and style, with elements of country, blues, gospel and rock. There are also the beautiful and familiar female backing vocals, and some simply magnificent work from a varied band - the trumpet on "Amen," for example, is unexpected and absolutely spellbinding.
Cohen's voice these days has passed through the Whisky & Cigarettes stage and is well on the way to a Chronic Bronchitis sound, but he still has that fabulous depth and resonance beneath the weariness and the creaks. He hovers between singing and speaking for much of this album even more than previously, but as a friend once said to me, "No one can sing a Leonard Cohen song the way Cohen himself can't." How true. He is miked very close so, particularly when listening on headphones, it really feels as though he is present and whispering into your ear.
All this is perfect for the songs here, whose lyrics are Cohen at his best: thoughtful, allusive, melancholy, witty and sometimes provoking. The religious imagery he has always used so brilliantly is well in evidence, and it is striking how much of it is now specifically Christian. Broken relationships, suffering and death have always been in the corner of Cohen's eye whatever he is writing about. They are often in plain sight here and are treated with insight, resignation, compassion and beauty. The old witty twinkle and his self-deprecatory streak are still there, though, and shine through what is often a very elegiac atmosphere. He still has that fantastic ability somehow to get to the heart of things both when he's speaking straightforwardly and even when direct meaning is elusive. These are songs to take into your heart, nurture and allow to grow there.
I think that several of these songs, including Amen, Show Me The Place and Different Sides are likely to become Cohen classics, but there is nothing to be sanitized and exploited by talent-show winners here and if you don't like Leonard Cohen this album certainly won't convert you. However, those legions of us who know that he was born like this, he had no choice, he was born with the gift of a golden voice will be delighted and deeply satisfied that that voice, both in what he writes and how he performs it, has lost none of its magnificent lustre.
I recommend this album wholeheartedly. I suspect that it may be a masterpiece.