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Tuesday, May 08, 2007 

I have tried, in my way, to be free

I never write something for the purpose of generating hate mail, but I also don't pretend to have orthodox opinions when I don't; and if the mini-storm it touched off among Stylus staff is any indication, my re-evaluation of Leonard Cohen's first three records is going to cause some nasty comments. If it gets even one person to check out Songs of Love and Hate, I don't mind one bit.

While I can't comment on Leonard Cohen, I will have to tell you that I'm weary about trusting Ian's musical opinions after he gave that Bravery song a 6 vs giving Justice a 3 on the Singles Jukebox. I mean, while neither track is particularly GREAT or particularly HORRIBLE, PUHHHHHHH-LEEEEEEEEEZ.

It's cool Katie, it's not your fault you like horrible dance music. And think you mean "wary."

Horrible dance music is way better than horrible alt rock craperoni. And if you heard what that Justice track can do to a full length mixtape when sped up and thrown in at the right place, we wouldn't be having this argument.

And yes, that. Though at the moment, I am both weary AND wary.

Horrible dance music is way better than horrible alt rock craperoni.

This is not actually true. And Justice's mixtape efficacy doesn't concern me on the Jukebox - I always try to evaluate songs on both quality and fitness as singles, as nebulous as that last bit is.

Unrelated to some nebulous argument about "the fitness of singles" (which sounds suspiciously like a possible title for the next album by The Streets), I really thought you did a nice job on the Cohen article. I liked the focus on the aural characteristics of Leonard's early work. It is so easy to wrap yourself in his lyrics and ignore the delivery. There is a reason (beyond economics) these are songs not poems - the delivery is equal or greater than the lyrics themselves, though this is not fully realized before "Songs Of Love And Hate". Well done.

Thanks - we definitely agree about the importance of Cohen's delivery. Have you heard Death of a Ladies' Man?

That's the one with "Memories", right? I haven't heard it in roughly 20 years. A close friend in high school was an obsessive fan - I associate Leonard Cohen with him almost exclusively - and I shared many, many hours listening to him to the exclusion of all else. I haven't listened to much since, to be perfectly honest.

Well, that's not quite right; The Future came out when I worked at a record store and it got a lot of play. I just remember it being rather overlong and musically repetitive. The words were good, but each song had at least an extra verse and no momentum.

So I take it I should give Death Of A Ladies Man a fresh go-round?

Regardless Ian. Just listening to each track on it's own, as a single, there's not even a comparison there as to which track is the better single. Justice was bound to be a huge single (which it is) (and it is a fucking great infectiously wonderful single), so you bashed it. The Bravery took a chance and did something real shitty, but because they're the underdog, you took up for them. Typical rock crit shit. Rockist.

Please don't bring that shit to my house. Even if I thought the Justice track was going to be more successful than the Bravery one (and I don't, both because it's gimmicky, day glo shit, and because dance music doesn't tend to get on the charts up here), that wouldn't effect how much I like it. I've loved plenty of massively huge singles, and hated plenty of obscure ones. Is it really so hard to wrap your head around the concept that I just don't like what you like?

Oh, and Erik: You definitely should (and I can help you with that, if needed). The longer songs on it (and only one, the closing title track, is very much so) sustain themselves pretty well, and "Memories" is indeed on there. I'd suggest hunting down Mike Powell's description of it, which I would for you now if not for the fact that I'm hung over. It's the most raucous and devastating of his records.

I liked the Cohen review. The thought of grading them or giving them a numerical rating isn’t something I’d be able to do. The first three records are all phenomenally important to me. They reflect three very different dispositions of a peerless lyricist. I can definitely see how the first record’s poems against the backdrop of a static fingerpicked pattern would be too unstructured for some tastes, while fans of the aforementioned would find the characters and melodrama of Songs of Love and Hate unpalatable.

That's an interesting point, and it's true I have yet to encounter anyone (aside from yourself, I guess) who holds both his first and third in the same esteem. I'm actually really hoping that Columbia gives the rest of his oeuvre the reissue treatment, as there are a few more volumes I'd buy if the sound was this level of quality, and also I'd love to see this sort of conversation continue through the rest of the man's work.

Thanks for dropping by, Daniel!

Ian -
I wouldn't mind a little "help" with hearing Death Of A Ladies Man. I was saddened when he didn't acknowledge it with even a single track on his hand-picked Essential collection a few years back. That sucker gave me more of his modern stuff than anyone needs, but skimps a little on the mid-period recordings.

yes, actually. When it comes down to those 2 particular songs side by side, I literally cannot wrap my head around it at all.

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Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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