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The Other Side Of Sorrow And Despair,
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.