|10-20-2008, 08:03 AM||#1 (permalink)|
Join Date: Sep 2008
'I'm Your Man' by Leonard Cohen
I'm Your Man
1988, Columbia Records
Following on from the poorly received and promoted Various Positions four years previously (Cohen's label had refused to release that album in the US) came what is, for me, Leonard Cohen's masterpiece. I'm Your Man was when Cohen opted to try and find a more mainstream audience by using a heavy-handed approach with regards to studio production rather than the gentle, moody acoustic strumming which he'd made so effective on earlier records such as Songs From a Room and Songs Of Leonard Cohen and was best known for. Consequently we find Cohen using synthesizers, horns, backing vocalists and various other staples of mainstream 80s pop/rock in abundance. Such an artistic move could easily have been disastrous (look no further than David Bowie, Elvis Costello and Gary Numan for examples of this effect) and it can be said that it is in places but... well, I'll go through all that with each song.
Track-by-track time, here goes;
1. First We Take Manhattan
The album kicks off in a style clearly influenced by the popular music scene which surrounded Cohen at the time. We're presented with a funky bassline, an almost Purple Rain-esque percussive device, a spooky keyboard line, a female backing choir and Richard Beaudet's distant, heavily-treated, wailing saxophone to back things up. Despite the danger of sounding dated, we're hooked in by the lyric's intriguing opening couplet 'they sentenced me to twenty years of boredom, for trying to change the system from within'. From there on, as is the result of good lyric-penning, the fascinating story of a man 'guided by a signal in the heavens, guided by this birthmark on his skin' becomes the focus of attention, helped in no small way by pushing the vocals of Cohen and his backing choir very high in the mix. Lyrics and vocals aside, the music behind the song itself is very well-written - while sounding maybe a little dated, a wonderfully tight band performance makes sure that time and place doesn't intrude on the quality of the result. It's a moody, surreal and foreboding tune, and a fine opener to the album. 8/10
2. Ain't No Cure For Love
On the face of it, it's quite a corny and, y'know, done premise. Don't let a bit of a cliche of a title put you off though. The sax line which kicks the number into gear is a good indicator of the four minutes which follow. It's a smooth, tender and slightly jazzy number and a lot closer to what you'd maybe have expected of Cohen's 70s back-catalogue. It seems a little syrupy at first, what with the gospel-ish refrain of 'there ain't no cure, there ain't no cure, there ain't no cure for love' after each verse, but on the whole it's a very decent, easy-on-the-ear number with a sweet little lyric. That said though, it's not quite one of the album highlights in my opinion. 7/10
3. Everybody Knows
By the time track 3 comes around we're handed the first of a few epics on this record. The opening verse is enough to reel the listener in alone...
'Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
...let alone the repetitive (in a good way) string arrangement and the added touches of John Bilezikjian's oud-playing. It's also (to these ears anyway) the first sign of Cohen's humorous side as a lyricist, lines like 'everybody got this broken feeling, like their father or their dog just died' and 'everybody knows that you've been faithful, ah give or take a night or two' being a couple of good examples. All in all, the song's a real winner. 9/10
4. I'm Your Man
The title track here is another very effective part of the album (well, you'd expect it to be really). It takes the level of studio-enhanced song-craft down a notch or two with its paired-down arrangement, with the production values making sure that the only instrument which particularly stands out in the mix is John Fisher's occasional synth chords. It's also home to another sharp, wisecracking and well-constructed lyric, the slow-burning arrangement complementing Cohen's vocal delivery nicely. 7/10
5. Take This Waltz
And to open side two we have the first true masterpiece on the album. It's probably just one of those me-things, but I remember hearing this song for the first time and being virtually hypnotized by what I was hearing. And, to cap off the achievement, it's a very simple arrangement to the song - just Cohen and his backing vocalists singing one of the most poignant lyrics I've ever heard on record over a gorgeous classical string-and-woodwind arrangement. Here's the opening verse if anyone's curious;
'Now in Vienna there's ten pretty women
There's a shoulder where death comes to cry
There's a lobby with nine hundred windows
There's a tree where the doves go to die
There's a piece that was torn from the morning
And it hangs in the gallery of frost'
An epic, one of the best songs I've ever heard. It's the song which convinced me that Leonard Cohen is indeed a genius and that this album is a masterpiece. I'd give it an 11 if I thought I could get away with it. 10/10
6. Jazz Police
But to follow that is the only turkey on the album. It's the most experimental piece on show here, but it's just not really that good. The whole stop-start delivery (both musically and lyrically) gets a bit irritating after a while and it's not as musically intriguing as the rest of the album. It does have its merits though, such as John Fisher's piano solo and the choir-sung fourth and ninth verses sound quite haunting, ergo cool. Definitely the weakest point of the album though. 4/10
7. I Can't Forget
However, what makes a brilliant album different from a good one is that the superior quality of other selections from the tracklisting make sure the more mediocre moments just drift by almost unnoticed, and that is exactly what is accomplished here. Some truly wonderful synth chords and superbly atmospheric marimba-playing underpins another fantastic poem of Cohen's. The opening lines...
'I stumbled out of bed
I got ready for the struggle
I smoked a cigarette
And I tightened up my gut
I said this can't be me
Must be my double'
...are, certainly for me, gloriously evocative and moving, and really lets one become lost inside a truly beautiful and soothing song. According to my LastFM profile, it's one of my top 5 most listened-to songs. 'nuff said. 10/10
8. Tower Of Song
And what can I possibly say about this song that hasn't already been said before, if not by some journo or other then one of the many, many artists who've covered it (Marianne Faithful, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Martha Wainwright and Nick Cave among them)? One of the best slow-burners I've ever heard - the arrangement gives off such a fragile sound it seems like it'll break if you stand too close to it. The tight band performance, including a repetitive drumbeat and the occasional touches of piano, makes sure the centre of the listener's attention is on Cohen and his poetry... 10/10
...as is the case with most of the rest of the album. The strength, as you might have noticed from my repeated quotings, lies for the most part behind the fact that Cohen's production values bring the words behind the music right to the front of the mix for your attention. Taking that on board, I'm Your Man features some of the finest lyrics I've ever heard committed to record. Cohen was and is a writer first and a musician second, but what I admire so much about this album is that while it would have been easy to make another record of acoustic strumming and intriguing wordplay, Cohen managed to strike a balance here between that and genuinely brilliant music. I think I've gone on about this for long enough, so to sum up;
Last edited by Bulldog; 10-20-2008 at 10:24 AM.
|11-01-2008, 06:05 PM||#4 (permalink)|
Join Date: Sep 2008
|11-01-2008, 06:21 PM||#5 (permalink)|
Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: the Wastes
...and a thoroughly readable review (although I disagree with you on Jazz Police), had me listening to the album again and reading along.
I love the way that by a Cohennite's standards this is overproduced. lololol. Try Level 42, Kajagoogoo or the 80's efforts of LC's singer-songwriter contemporaries; you might just cack yourselves. Great decade for pop, I can't believe I grew up letting Q magazine etc tell me to write it off. It was totally inevitable as well, as is a full-blown revival.
|11-01-2008, 06:55 PM||#6 (permalink)|
Join Date: Sep 2008
Agree. Good review and I too have got this out and have had a few plays over the last couple of days.
IMO I'm Your Man stands up with anything that Cohen produced in the early days. Fine album.