NSTOC is Cohen's fourth studio album released in 1974 by which time the poetry of his debut LP had largely given way to the embittered musings of an artist unhappy with his life and his central relationship with Suzanne Elrod. Despite this, there are still some moments of eloquence and beauty.
The album contains three songs which usually feature on Cohen compilations, the beautiful prayer-like Who By Fire, Take This Longing and Leonard's tribute of sorts to Janis Joplin Chelsea Hotel No. 2. Further highlight include the bongo-led There Is A War and darkly humorous, self-destroying A Singer Must Die whose witty lyrics accompany an attractive tune.
New Skin For The Old Ceremony includes a broader musical palette than Cohen's previous LPs with contemporary and traditional instruments largely replacing the string-section back-up of yore to Leonard's distinct acoustic playing. One good example of a new sound proving effective is the clarinet solo which closes the bluesy Why Don't You Try.
So far so good but NSFTOC does have its shortcomings. The songs overall are not as strong as before and aren't helped by Leonard's bitter lyrics. On the worst occasions, it almost sounds like he is making up the words as he goes along, accompanied by some pub-singer type wailing - such wretched trends are especially prevalent on the opener Is This What You Wanted and closing track Leaving Green Sleeves.
Far from perfect then though there are enough good moments on NSFTOC to outweigh the bad. It's not Cohen's best album by some distance but is worth obtaining if you are already a fan and own other LC LPs.
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