This article from Rolling Stone (#1274) in the Nov. 17, 2016 issue written by Andy Greene…
After an epic tour, the singer fell into poor health. But he dug deep and came up with a powerful new album.
Leonard Cohen has rarely been seen in public since he wrapped up his Grand Tour at the Vector Arena in Auckland, New Zealand, on December 21st, 2013, with a joyous encore of the Drifters’ “Save the Last Dance for Me.” That five-year, 387-date global odyssey – where he played for well over three hours a night – was a massive musical (and financial) success. But not long after, Cohen began to suffer serious physical problems. “Among many other things, he had multiple fractures of the spine,” says his son Adam. “He has a lot of hard miles on him.”
The 82-year-old singer-songwriter now lives on the second floor of a house he shares with his daughter Lorca in the Wilshire neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Lorca is raising a five-year-old daughter whose father is Rufus Wainwright.) In Cohen’s words, he’s “confined to barracks” due to severe mobility issues, but he was determined not to let that stop him from recording his new LP, You Want It Darker. He began work on the album about a year and a half ago, but he had to stop when producer Patrick Leonard (who worked with Cohen on his last two albums) suffered what Adam Cohen describes as “very serious personal problems.” Cohen then invited Adam, a singer-songwriter in his own right, to come in and complete the project. “It’s increasingly rare for children to be so useful to their parents,” says Adam. “To be in such intimate circumstances for such a lengthy period of time with my father was filled with sweetness for me.”
Adam turned Cohen’s house into a makeshift recording studio, placing an old Neumann U 87 microphone on the dining room table and filling the living room with computers, outboard gear and speakers. He also brought in an orthopedic medical chair for his father. “It’s designed to accommodate someone spending many, many hours on it,” says Adam. “You can sleep in it, eat in it and practically stand in it.” A laptop ran ProTools – Leonard merely had to sing. “Occasionally, in bouts of joy, he would even, through his pain, stand up in front of the speakers, and we’d repeat a song over and over like teenagers,” Adam adds. “Sometimes medical marijuana intervened and played a role.” The vocal tracking became a form of therapy for Leonard. “At times I was very worried about his health, and the only thing that buoyed his spirits was the work itself,” says Adam. “And given the incredible and acute discomfort he was suffering from in his largely immobilized state, [creating this album] was a great distraction.”
In typical Cohen fashion, he obsessed over every lyric of the nine songs, most of which were written in the past few years (though “Treaty,” featuring the lyric “I don’t care who takes this bloody hill/I’m angry and I’m tired all the time,” dates back a decade). Some of the songs were dictated into his phone; others he jotted down on a notepad he keeps in the breast pocket of his jacket. “It comes, kind of, by dribbles and drops,” he said at a recent L.A. press event. “Some people are graced with a flow. Some people are graced with something less than a flow. I’m one of those.”
Although Cohen was never able to make it to the recording studio, where a team of about a dozen musicians, including organist Neil Larsen, guitarist Bill Bottrell and bassist Michael Chaves, worked on the material, he was still very much in command of the sessions. “I spoke to him at length, got his instructions before every session,” says Adam. “Then I faithfully tried to serve what I understood his vision to be in the studio. He also had final say and veto power. If you listen to this record versus the other recent ones, it’s a little bit more sparse and acoustic.”
Today, Cohen is in slightly better health than he was during the making of You Want It Darker. But any sort of tour in support of the album, or even a single live appearance, is highly unlikely. “He’s meticulous and requires a lot of rehearsing,” says Adam. “It’s just not in the cards.” But there are at least three songs that didn’t make the album, and they may provide a beginning for the next one. “They say that life is a beautiful play with a terrible third act,” says Adam. “If that’s the case, it must not apply to Leonard Cohen. Right now, at the end of his career, perhaps at the end of his life, he’s at the summit of his powers.”
This review of the new LC album comes from The Guardian, Oct. 20, 2016 and written by Alex Petridis…
Still Changing, Still Full of Life
Despite all the recent talk about Leonard Cohen’s mortality, his wonderful new album suggests an artist determined to keep moving forward.
Last week, Leonard Cohen felt obliged to announce that reports of his death – or at least his imminent death – had been exaggerated. “I said I was ready to die recently,” he told the audience at a listening party in Los Angeles for his 14th studio album. “And I think I was exaggerating. I’ve always been into self-dramatisation. I intend to live forever.”
The original quote about being ready to die arrived in a remarkable New Yorker profile, and came as a shock to anyone whose image of Cohen was frozen in the moment he left the stage of Auckland’s Vector Arena in December 2013, at what may yet prove to be his final live performance: an exceptionally handsome and dapper gentleman who appeared to be wearing both his 79 years and the rigours of a tour that had lasted since 2008 extraordinarily well, who still carried something of the air of the “boudoir poet,” as his former lover Joni Mitchell once described him. It was an image that 2014’s Popular Problems did little to counter-act – it was as acclaimed an album as he has ever released, further buoyed by interviews in which Cohen talked of honing its songs over hundreds of gigs – but here he was, two years on, apparently so frail that he was “confined to barracks” and using phrases such as “when I was healthy.” No wonder that, earlier this year, he had told his dying former partner and muse Marianne Ihlen: “I think I will follow you very soon.”
But equally, you can see why Cohen is keen to deflect the interpretation that You Want It Darker is intended as some kind of musical last will and testament. It arrives packed with songs you could interpret as reflective farewells – from “Leaving the Table” to “Steer Your Way” – and with references to mortality and faith. The first sound you hear is a choir from the Montreal synagogue in which Cohen’s family worshipped, and the last is Cohen apparently addressing Jesus with a certain irrevocability: “It’s over now, the water and the wine… I wish there was a treaty between your love and mine.”
But, as his biographer Sylvie Simmons recently pointed out, it was ever thus: reflective farewells are very much his stock in trade, and you would be hard pushed to find another songwriter whose work displays such “an awareness of the imminent defeat,” as Simmons put it. He was musing on posterity in the 1980s in “Tower of Song,” albeit concluding it was nothing to worry about. His most famous song, “Hallelujah,” is stuffed with precisely the kind of biblical imagery and conflicted, ambiguous attitude to spirituality and religion that suffuses You Want It Darker, and Cohen wrote that in his late 40s. Moreover, “Hallelujah” took him five years to write, which makes it one of his more speedily composed numbers: “Treaty,” the song those lines about the water and the wine come from, has apparently been ongoing for the best part of 20 years, which certainly casts a slightly different light on its sense of finality.
Still, you could never describe You Want It Darker as merely more of the same. As striking as the sense that its themes are of a piece with the rest of Cohen’s oeuvre is the sense of an artist willing to move forward. Even leaving aside the fairly mind-boggling fact that someone has commissioned a dance remix of the title track, a menacing critique of religion – if it’s hard to imagine Cohen is a devoted fan of Paul Kalkbrenner, the Berlin-based techno producer responsible, it’s harder still to imagine that anything gets released without the old boy’s agreement – there are moments when You Want It Darker gently pushes Cohen’s sound to places it hasn’t really gone before.
He was once content to let his songs into the world backed by the kind of synthesisers and drum machines that Stock, Aitken and Waterman would have eschewed as a bit too Woolworths for their own good, as if the words were the only thing that really mattered to him. But You Want It Darker frequently frames his songs in orchestral arrangements of varying degrees of sumptuousness: from the discreet haze of strings that hovers behind the tremolo-heavy guitars and pedal steel of “Leaving the Table” to the intricate repetitions of “Steer Your Way” – like a countrified take on minimalist classical music – to the high drama of the concluding reprise of “Treaty.” The latter, in particular, sounds markedly different from anything Cohen has done before; moreover, the contrast between the orchestral grandeur and his parched vocal really works.
Meanwhile, the lyrics are as fascinating and conflicted as ever. The title track flips from anger to resigned acceptance and back again, its fluctuations decorated with beautiful lines: “I struggled with some demons, they were middle-class and tame.” God fades in and out of view throughout the album, sometimes there, sometimes a figment of the imagination. Elsewhere, Cohen’s view of a presumably octogenarian decline in sexual desire seems largely to be one of relief, not unlike the late George Melly’s line about it feeling “like being unchained from a lunatic” – In “Leaving the Table,” he declares “the wretched beast has been tamed” – but it’s tempered by wrenching evocations of lost love: “They ought to give my heart a medal for letting go of you” or “If the road leads back to you, must I forget the things I knew?”
Throughout, he sounds wise and honest, and – despite the occasional lyrical protestations of weariness – full of life. Last week in LA, Cohen talked about making two more albums, about following the musical path sketched out on the album’s finale, “String Reprise/Treaty.” It’s hard not to hope it works out that way – the man behind You Want It Darker does not seem like someone running short on inspiration – but if circumstances dictate otherwise, there are worse ways to bow out than this.
Happy belated 82nd birthday, LC!
Live at the 02 Arena in Dublin, taken from Sept. 12th, a brand new song from LC…
A review of this box set, which I heard has already sold out its limited edition amount, comes from The Second Disc and was written by Joe Marchese, Dec. 13, 2011. This also comes in a smaller studio-album-only edition. Also, don’t forget to pick up LC’s brand new album, Old Ideas, out now…
It’s hard to believe that Leonard Cohen was once tarred with the infamous “New Dylan” brush, even though he was in rather rarefied company alongside other “New Dylans” like Loudon Wainwright III and even Bruce Springsteen. Sure, both Mr. Cohen and the former Mr. Zimmerman shared non-traditional voices and a gift for truly literate lyrics. Both made their recording debuts on Columbia Records, and even shared a producer, Bob Johnston. But the similarities largely end there. When Songs of Leonard Cohen was issued in late 1967, Dylan himself was still the new Dylan! Currently about to enter his 50th year as a recording artist, Bob Dylan barely had five years under his belt in 1967. Thanks to the herculean efforts of Columbia Records and Legacy, Leonard Cohen’s own 44-year career can now be assessed in one remarkable collection sure to inspire a breed of “new Cohens.” Read the rest of this entry »
Neil McCormick’s Jan. 27th review of the new Leonard Cohen album (coming out tomorrow), from The Telegraph…
“He wants to write a love song/ An anthem of forgiving/ A manual for living with defeat/ A cry above the suffering/ A sacrifice recovering/ But that isn’t what I need him to complete,” whispers Leonard Cohen on the opening track of Old Ideas, his first album of original songs in seven years, and only his 12th studio album since 1967.
Writing in the third person about his struggles with his muse, Cohen slyly describes himself as “a lazy bastard living in a suit” but his legendarily slow working methods have less to do with sloth than depth, precision and judgment, the exacting standards of poetic genius.
The song that emerges from this particular struggle is “Going Home,” an elegiac act of surrender, in which there is little doubt about the final destination. As the angelic Webb Sisters add heavenly sighs, Cohen’s weary Read the rest of this entry »