My Record Collection 60

Phil Collins.  Ah, the Genesis man who took over the lead singer’s role when Peter Gabriel left.  The band moved gradually over to the middle of the road and then Phil had a run of solo albums….and became massive.   First up is his debut In The Air Tonight which sounds very like a Genesis album, only a bit more introspective.  The production is brilliant, you are simply waiting for the explosion of drums on the title track which arrive almost at the end. In fact the whole mood of the record is moody, and reflective – almost sad, which I love.  Of course the best song is ‘If Leaving me is Easy’ with it’s gentle soothing melody suddenly erupting in real raw and bleeding emotion. Brilliant.  But there are some more upbeat songs, very reminiscent of his Genesis stuff at the time.  Then there is the superb closer, a re-imagining of John Lennon’s Beatle song ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ which is as good as the original.  Another fave track is ‘The Roof Is leaking’; a real kitchen-sink little drama. I loved this album when it came out and time has not diminished its appeal – every song is good, a true classic.  He followed this two years later in 1982 with ‘Hello I Must Be Going’ another excellent but more upbeat record.  A bit more commercial sounding and another resounding hit.  This one sounds far more like the stuff that Genesis were doing in the mid-eighties.  Best songs ‘I Don’t Care Anymore’, ‘Like China’ and the Supremes cover ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’.  If the first album was Phil getting over a broken heart he sounded fully recovered now.  The production was now very sharp; gated drums (which some say Phil invented) and moody waves of synths – but even so, and slightly dated as it sounds, I really like it.  Phil’s third album followed on quickly No Jacket Required.  Co-incidentally I started doing some bookkeeping for a restaurant of that name on Lavender Hill shortly after this.  It was a disaster but that is a different story.  This record is much of a muchness and I was getting a bit bored by both Phil and Genesis by now.  Nothing new, nothing really exciting.  Mind you, the lead single Sussudio is a cracker.  But Seriously followed in 1989; a nicer record I think. A bit less bombastic, a few slower songs.  Big hit ‘Another Day In Paradise’, ‘All Of My Life’ and I also like ‘That’s Just The Way It Is’; Phil was absolute pop royaity by now, but also suffering somewhat of a backlash from those who felt he had sold out.  I am not sure – he was certainly a cocky sod, but should an Artist’s personality really affect the way you hear their music?  Anyway, I do get fed up with the sneerers -if you don’t like someone – simple, don’t buy their records.  But all in all a fine album.   1993 saw Both Sides; and how quickly it can all change.  For whatever reason he produced a really dull record.  Oh, the sharp production was there, the snappy drums, even the melodies are okay – but the magic is missing.  Nothing else really to say.  I actually stopped buying his records after this one.  Though I did return for his final record (see later).  Then quite recently I saw a box set of all his studio albums at a very reasonable price and in a fit of madness bought it.  Ever the completist (though I have given up trying to own a copy of everything since The Beatles…hahaha) I felt I should get it if only to hear the two missing records.

Dance Into The Light – is actually quite a good record.  More upbeat songs and some nice African influenced rhythms.  A nice record, not his best but quite acceptable.  There is also a very good version of Dylan’s ‘The Times they are a changing’.   Testify is the other one I missed.  I have played it twice just now, and really it has made absolutely no impression on me at all.  And yet, Phil thinks it was his best…

Going Back – I did buy at the time; it is Phil’s covers record -and all the songs are Motown hits – Brilliant.  Very easy listening – because you know almost all the songs anyway and Phil both respects the original not to change them too much but just enough to keep them interesting.  Impossible to choose a favourite – maybe ‘Jimmy Mack.’

And hopefully that is it from Phil.  Not one of the best ever artists but pretty good in his time.  Like many his best records were his early ones.  He is still a member of Genesis (seeG) and presumably they will be re-touring and recording again some time.  Until then…

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The Night Of The Storm

Where do I begin?  Was it the storm itself?  I mean the one outside, raging and roaring like some ill-tempered child.  Or was it the storm in my head, the whirlwind I constantly found myself in?  Or did it really begin, like so much else – far earlier.  Suffice it to say that I was confused; nothing made sense – least of all the weather.  Where did that storm come from?  I watch, as you know, 24 hour news – well – almost 24 hours a day.  And the weather is every half an hour.  But was I really taking it in?  For the life of me I cannot remember any storm warnings, no amber bars on the screen, no violent wind arrows streaming across the land like some Norman invading army.  So that night, when I woke in a blind panic with the branches of the old chestnut tree lashing my window and the sky lit up by flashes and rolls of thunder – to say I was confused was an understatement of an understatement.

“Where has this awful weather come from?” was my immediate thought.  No, before that even it was “Am I awake?”  You see, I keep having these violent dreams, where I am lost, abandoned, searching desperately for the house or the room where you are.  Or at least the house where you might be, because, just as in reality, or at least the reality I have been forced to accept – not the one I would have chosen – you are, as elusive as ever.  At least when you were here, on the other end of the sofa or in the kitchen fixing us a meal I had some idea where you might be.  But even then, and yes, actually, especially then, I was never sure if you were really there.  Your physical self? Well, at least I could see that, but what went on in your head, what you were really thinking – was as unknown, and, indeed, as unknowable as anything I had ever encountered.

So maybe we have to go back to that other time, that very sunny day, the day we met.  In fact, the weather seems to have affected both you and I far more than I had realised.  Was it really Summer when I first saw you?  Early Summer – it might have been the first week of May.  That very verdant time, when the fields, the hedges, the trees are all a brilliant, almost impossible green.  Colour is exploding everywhere you look, obscenely pink blossom on the trees and wild flowers all striving to be noticed and, of course, just like young lovers too – striving to be pollinated.  Was I simply trying to pollinate you?  And were you sending out your scent, hints of the sweet nectar I would find enfolded in your arms?

Whatever…best not to over-analyse these things, complicated as they always are. But it seemed to me, at the time, and yes, even now, that we were destined for each other.  Though just as the male spider approaches the female with caution – I was wary of you, my dear.  I had been bitten before, I had tasted love and lost it too.  I wasn’t even what you might call ‘on the rebound’.  It had been three years since my last encounter.  I had been living an ascetic life, spending frugally, wearing old clothes even when they were threadbare and burying myself in work – to stop me thinking how lonely I was, perhaps.  And then you broke through the cloudy barriers I had hoisted for my protection, bringing all that promise, all that sunshine with you.   Ah, what is the use of all this reminiscing?  None of it can disguise the fact that I never knew where you were.

Of course, the truth is that I never even knew who you were.  I said that you were elusive, and though that was part of the attraction, I could never pin you down.  And maybe that was what I really wanted to do.  To capture you, still your beating butterfly wings, fill your veins with embalming fluid and pin you down like some exotic specimen under glass and mahogany.  To stand back and admire you, to look at you from every angle, to finally see what lie behind those bewitching eyes, to finally understand what and who you were.  But maybe you were just that bit cleverer than I, you saw the net I was constructing for you; you slipped away just as it was closing it in on you.

For you escaped.  Well, as you know only too well, you had escaped long before you actually left.  Oh, you left your body behind, you let me hold you, unfold you, cover your body with kisses.  You never resisted my touch, but all the while I could feel the unspoken word hovering between eye and lip.

“Traitor”.  You never spoke out loud but I could hear it nevertheless.

You discerned far before I even admitted it to myself, that my love was false.  My words of love were simply words, my caresses were for my satisfaction not yours.  And you escaped.  You rolled your eyes back into your head and eluded me.

And then, the night of the storm – you actually left.  Maybe it was the very delicate sound of your dress swishing against the nylon of your tights as you tiptoed down the hall?  Maybe it was your muffled breath as you wound the scarf gently round your neck?  Maybe it was the click of the front door as you let yourself out?  But despite the raging storm I was suddenly alert to your leaving.  Above the howling wind, the lashing rain, the roar of the thunder – I heard you leaving.  And I was suddenly up and dressed before you had even left the garden.  I stood in the dark at our bedroom window and watched as you turned for one last look back.  I saw you turn left.   The town – of course.  I walked calmly downstairs, my mind more rational than at any time for weeks.  I put on my heavy Berbour and a waterproof hat.  I rummaged for a torch and my keys.  I quietly closed the door and started silently after you.  I had to reach you, to talk maybe, to stop you from leaving.

You kept turning to look back; you didn’t see me in the shadows though I had you in my sights all along.  I was watching you my dear, and even then a small part of me was hoping you might escape and find the peace you were seeking.  I kept a safe distance behind, biding my time, savouring every moment of your flight.  The wind whipping your coat and flapping it behind you like some huge eagle’s wings, your hair coming loose and flying in wet strands, the tendrils dragging me closer to you.  Ah, you never looked so beautiful.  I breathed in and caught the merest whiff of your scent, borne on the wicked wind.  I knew that just a few yards ahead the houses peter out.  The street lights are far apart a few hundred yards here before the real town begins.  The safety of the town, that was where you were heading, wasn’t it?  Just this short patch of wasteland between me and safety; houses, restaurants and shops, people, the railway station.

But you never quite escaped, did you my love?  Did you really suppose it would be so easy?  Leaving me, I mean?  Why, we should have talked things over.  Come to some compromise, shouldn’t we?  But no, you chose to leave, to desert me, to try and slip away while the storm raged around us.  Oh, how I wanted you to stay.

But I forgive you.  Yes, that may surprise you.  Here am I, the wounded one, the man you left with nary a word and after all I had done for you too.  And yet I feel no anger towards you now, in fact as I forgive you, I find I love you even more.  And now my love is true, no more pretending, no more searching your eyes for lies, for signs of betrayal.

Your eyes are shut now darling, no more accusations, no more lies.  The storm is over, no more rain to drench your perfect hair – no, the rain has even washed the slight pool of blood away.  Strange you didn’t bleed that much at all my dear, I soon staunched the wound.  Thunder stole your faint screams; lightning lit the fear in your eyes.  ; no more rain on your face – just my kisses. No more those eyes accusing me of betrayal, of falsehood.  Your eyes are shut now my sweetest love, you are free now.  In fact, we are both free now.  No more confusion, just calm.  And just outside the window the sun is breaking through.  No more storm outside – or inside my head, just calm now.  I am so tired, let me sleep beside you one more time.

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Marc Cohn – Just the one album, The Rainy Season.  And I don’t know why I never bought any others of his.  This record is pretty damn good.  Best songs ‘Walk through the World’ and his biggest hit ‘Walking in Memphis’.  Very Americana and very good.  Makes me realise how many records I will never hear…oh well.

Coldplay – well, this is one of those bands that are massive and yet…..I don’t really like them.  Oh, they are wonderful, of course – that cannot be denied, but They are one of those self-important very rich bands that create very little and play huge stadiums etc. etc. I bought their first album Parachutes – and loved it. And it was downhill since then.  The album was their debut and came out in 2000.  It was, or seemed, largely acoustic – and it is a classic.  Great songs and that world-weary yearning voice; best songs ‘Yellow’ and ‘Trouble’ though there isn’t a poor song on the record.  Two years later came A Rush Of Blood To The Head.  I bought it, but somehow, for me at least, some of the magic had been lost.  They were already Superstars and it seemed to show.  Somehow all that magic of the debut is lost in a bombastic production and grandiose posing.  Well, maybe it was just me because the album and the band became massive.  Best songs ‘Politic’ and ‘The Scientist’.

Jacob Collier – In My Room.  I was bored a few months ago and flicking thru the TV channels stumbled on Jacob live at the Proms.  A multi-instrumentalist and singer with an amazing repertoire and very different songs.  He only has one album and I bought it.  The record is not quite so good as he was live but still an interesting artist.  Impossible to pin down to any genre, this 24 year old defies pigeon-holing.  But only for the Specialist…

Judy Collins.  I first heard of her while I was in the lower Sixth; she was part of the new folk movement of the mid-sixties along with Joan Baez and Buffy Ste. Marie.  I did buy a couple of her LPs later and was quite disappointed.  Her real forte is as an interpreter of songs.  In her quite old age she has released a couple of albums singing Dylan and Cohen songs.  Strangely, although her voice is crystal clear and beautiful, she misses the emotion and tension that the original singers (singing actually quite badly) managed to capture – so a bit disappointing really.

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Leonard Cohen – the later years

I am sure I wasn’t alone in thinking that Leonard had called it a day; gone out on a high at least; that there was nothing more he wanted to say, no more wisdom to drop into our ears, no more records.  And quietly the record came out Ten New Songs.  This was the result of a collaboration between Leonard and one of his singers, the sublime Sharon Robinson, who co-wrote and sung on the songs; I suspect she wrote the music.  And this, of all Leonard’s record is the smoothest, the most similar – in fact the music is almost all of a piece and the same pace throughout.  Leonard’s words, almost whispered now pass you by like weeds in a stream, floating past and hypnotizing, but very few actually snag and stick in your brain.  A beautiful record even so, but though I do like listening to it (personally I would buy an album of Leonard farting in the bath) it is not, for me, in the top league.  Best songs ‘In My Secret Life’, ‘Boogie Street’ and ‘Alexandra Leaving’.  I have to struggle to remember a line, but ‘I fought against the bottle, but I had to do it drunk’ sticks somehow.

Two years later (2004) came ‘Dear Heather’, maybe the strangest record in his entire career.  There were two or three tracks from the New Song recordings, a couple of new songs, a live track and two spoken poems to a mild jazz background, one not even written by Leonard.  One got the idea that this was scraping the barrel a bit.  Even so, with sub-standard material it was still a delight to listen to those whispery vocals.  Best songs ‘Undertow’ and ‘The Faith’.  But even Leonard knew. He has barely ever sung these songs live.

Then a couple of years later Leonard discovered that his long-term accountant had absconded with most of his money.  Leonard decided to crank the ‘live’ machine up and embarked at the tender age of 73 on a World Tour.  And it was a brilliant success, his band never sounded better – and he was on top form; for once he seemed to be enjoying the experience.  A slew of live albums followed, as did the tours. I saw him at the O2 in London and the album ‘Live in London’ is a double and features practically the entire show.  Brilliant.

But, maybe singing live had envigorated him, he released a new album ‘Old Ideas’,  We had all been hoping for some more drops of wisdom, or whatever we thought his work might be.  But he was in his late 70’s and I suppose we wanted him to go out on a high, or at least to not embarrass himself.  Well he didn’t.  The record is not one of his very best but it is far from poor.  Producer Patrick Leonard seems to have got something out of the old boy. Best songs, ‘Darkness’ and ‘Different Sides’.  Best lines ‘We both say there are rules, but frankly I don’t like your tone.  You want to change the way I make love, I want to leave it alone.’

And another drop from the bottle arrived a couple of years later with ‘Popular Problems’.  Not really anything too exciting, but still good.  Best songs ‘Slow’ and ‘Never Mind.’  In a way I am still absorbing these later records – the old ones have been played hundreds of times.

Best of the live albums was ‘Can’t Forget’ – two new songs and two covers.  Not bad for the old guy.   The new songs are okay, treading water rather than pursue new paths but a nice record.  I especially like the song ‘Choices’.

Of course, over the years I have bought various Greatest Hits and even a covers album called ‘I’m Your Fan;.  All good but no surprises.  Somehow that doesn’t even matter.  And madness or what, I recently bought a box set of his studio albums – all of which I already own, and which will remain unopened as I have all his records saved on computer and memory sticks.  Such is the nature of worship.

Book of Longing – is an album by Phillip Glass where he re-interprets some of Leonard’s poetry and songs.  I am not either knowledgeable or a big fan of classical pieces but I quite like what he has done here.  Leonard even recites a couple of poems – lovely to hear that voice again.

Then he stopped touring as he approached his eighties, and rumours of ill-health started to emerge.  His one-time lover and father of his children and subject of one of his best loved songs, Marianne, was near death and he sent her a public message that he wouldn’t be far behind her.  We knew he was still writing, still attempting to distil beauty and wisdom from the mud of existence.  And just like Bowie a year earlier he released his final album just days before dying.  ‘You Want It Darker’ is an almost whispered prayer; Leonard had returned to his Jewish roots with synagogue choirs on a couple of tracks.  His voice is almost shot and he almost recites the songs. I am still absorbing the record really.  It is pretty good, though impossible to compare with his earlier wonders.  I like the first couple of songs on the record but even if it were a bad record I would still treasure it I am sure.  His son Adam produced the album and there are rumours that a new posthumous album is in the offing.  We will see.

All in all, though this is a hard one – Leonard is probably my very favourite artist, and that is because he has managed to combine two art-forms, poetry and music; maybe only Dylan and Joni come near to that perfection.   So, I say Goodbye, but only for so long.  I always return to him, especially in times of darkness.  In many ways he has been my comforter and friend.

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Thought On The Turn of The Year

Well, what to say?  Firstly, that I am always surprised at the jollity accompanied by New Year’s Eve; I am the silent observer, watching incredulously at all this madness.  I do join in, but more often than not my heart isn’t really in it.  The arbitrary nature of the date itself, the rejoicing at the passing of one year and the hope over experience that the next year will indeed be better.

Still, it is a time for reflection and possible renewal, or at least the attempt at it.  Politically the year was completely clogged up with the machinations of Brexit; too boring and far too important to reflect on now – save to say we are in a mess, and hardly anyone is showing any leadership or courage at this perilous time.  Maybe over Christmas there have been discussions and a possible way forward is in the offing.  Meanwhile in America Donald Trump is now officially at war with everyone; his Cabinet (just like in Britain) keep flaking off like dead leaves to be replaced by lesser men and women; Congress has changed hands and the Democrats will now thwart him at every turn – and even the Republicans have had enough of him.  Now that that will do him down – he will survive Meuller too, he will almost certainly stand for re-election – and of course he could win; it will be a brave Democrat who stands against him; it could be their only shot at being President.  Please don’t let it be Hilary, a two-time loser and so tainted.

I do travel back to England every few weeks, and I find a deeply unhappy country; the slow attrition of Austerity, and now the cruelty of Universal Credit, and the residue of division from Brexit has left us downhearted and weary and more divided than ever.  I am not sure that any of the current Politicians stands any hope of bringing people together, despite all the warm words.

And the real problems persist, how to fund an ageing population, a creaking NHS, a fragmented education system, an ageing infrastructure – and of course a huge and constantly rising debt.  Any mention of increased taxation is the kiss of death, the press is toxic and still owned by a few rich men, and even though they sell far fewer papers they continue to set the news agenda itself.  So, in one way, Theresa May is right “Nothing has changed”.

Whether things will change in 2019 I doubt; even a General Election may decide nothing.  All we can do is try to be kind to each other as the two juggernauts come hurtling down the highway – Climate Change and Artificial Intelligence.  Have a good New Year.

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Leonard Cohen – Continued

Another long lay-off for Leonard, another possible crisis of confidence – who knows.  He released very quietly Various Positions in 1984.  A terrible cover photo did not help sales; the boss of CBS records apparently said to him “Leonard, we know you are great – but are you any good?”  The album sold poorly despite being sublime and containing what would grow to become his most famous song ‘Hallelujah’.  In fact the whole album is quite religious. Best songs ‘Dance me to the end of love’, ‘The Captain’ and of course ‘Hallelujah’.  But I really love the closer ‘If It Be Your Will’ – a beautiful resigning to God’s power, and even as a non-believer I can love this song.  Best line ‘if it be you will, that I speak no more, and my voice be still, as it was before, I will speak no more, I will abide until, I am spoken for, if it be your will.  Although the record sold very poorly at first, over time it has grown in popularity and Leonard was till singing two or three songs from it almost thirty years later.

After the failure of Various Positions to re-establish Leonard, one of his female singers Jennifer Warnes (see W) decided to release an album of Leonard’s songs including two newer ones. Famous Blue Raincoat was a minor hit and helped to persuade Leonard not to give up.  He started using synthesisers and drum machines to compose more upbeat songs and the resultant album four years later I’m Your Man was a triumphant success.  I saw him on the live tour of this album and he was superb.  The songs are all brilliant, although I have never really liked ‘Jazz Police’.  The title song helped establish Leonard’s reputation as a ladies man, ‘Ain’t No Cure For Love’ is another winner.  He put music to a poem by Lorca ‘Take This Waltz’ and it works superbly.  But the album’s very best song is the closer ‘Tower of Song’ – a wonderfully simple melody and a great lyric – “I was born like this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice”.  Simplicity itself, and like all great records it leaves you wanting more.

Four years later and Leonard almost repeated the trick with The Future.  Two brilliant, almost political (well, the closest Leonard would ever get to political) songs; the title track and ‘Democracy’, the rousing ‘Closing Time’, which many fans choose as their funeral song (I know, but you have to listen to the lyrics to understand why). The smooth ‘Light as the breeze’ and the best song in almost his whole repertoire ‘Anthem’ – “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering – there is a crack, a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in”  Two cover love songs, sung brilliantly I must admit – and an instrumental closer ‘Tacoma Trailer’.

And what did laughing Len do next?  Why, he simply vanished  – for nine years.  He had always been deeply religious; Jewish, but fascinated by Christianity (Joan of Arc and many other references), but in 1993 he decamped to a Zen Buddhist monastery on Mount Baldy near L A.  He later claimed he wasn’t looking for spiritual enlightenment but simply he wanted to change his life.  He became a servant and pupil of a Buddhist monk.  In reality he did come down from the mountain a few times, but on the whole – this was a retreat.  And as we heard nothing we may have assumed that was it.

His record company released a live album with the uninspiring title Cohen Live featuring concerts from ’85 and ’93.  It is okay but not very exciting.  Better is a bootleg I have ‘Above The Soul’ of a whole ’93 concert.  Same songs but much more atmosphere.   Also a 1988 radio broadcast from Toronto Back in the Motherland which is quite good too.  The thing about live albums, especially by Leonard is you aren’t really looking for anything different at all.  It is just an excuse to drench yourself once more in his voice, his words, his world.  I don’t play them that often – just running my fingers over the CD cases is sometimes enough.

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Leonard Cohen  – 2.  There are certain artists who can re-invent themselves; Bowie, Dylan and of course Leonard.   He suffered throughout his life with both depression and writer’s block; he worked repeatedly and meticulously on his writing – poems and songs, constantly revising, re-reading, searching for that elusive yet perfect turn of phrase.  To his record company’s frustration he often took years before new material arrived, and many times he simply decided that enough was enough; the well had run dry.  It was three years since ‘Songs of Love and Hate’; his weird ‘Live Songs’ had been mauled by the critics and sold poorly.  And yet in 1974 he produced another sublime and yet different collection of songs.  The anger, the self-loathing seemed to have slipped away.  A calmer Leonard emerged, like a butterfly from a chrysalis.  New Skin For The Old Ceremony was the record that re-introduced Leonard to the world.   The title an allusion to sex and the cover a medieval woodcut of a religious and sexual experience.  The new producer John Lissauer used sparse orchestration rather than Leonard’s guitar creating a different texture to the album.  The songs are varied, a couple slightly upbeat ‘There is a War’ and ‘Field Commander Cohen’, several quite gentle like ‘Chelsea Hotel#2’ which was about a sexual encounter with Janis Joplin, and ‘Lover Lover Lover’, there is also ‘Who By Fire’ about ways of dying and a re-imagined mediaeval folk-song ‘Leaving Greensleeves’ where Leonard leaves us almost screaming.  There is the perennial concert closer ‘I Tried To Leave You’ and ‘A Singer Must Die’ – a sad farewell to another lover.  Altogether one of his better records.  Best line ‘Your vison was right, my vision was wrong – I’m sorry for smudging the air with my song.’

Leonard toured this album, mostly in Europe and I have a live album; a Paris radio broadcast, again only released recently.  No real surprises here, except a song ‘Store Room’ which was never officially released (no wonder – it is pretty dire), but nice renditions all the same.

But resurrection was soon followed by almost crucifixion.  In a moment of madness Leonard agreed for Phil Spector to produce his next record; 1977’s Death Of A Ladies Man.  One can barely imagine a less appropriate pairing, and the result was interesting to say the least.  Both Leonard and Phil were high on drugs; there were guns and bullets in the studio and a collection of session players.  Phil apparently took the tapes home every night and no-one heard them until the album was released.  It is almost impossible to assess the quality of Leonard’s writing at this point, but I do discern moments of genius amidst the madness of the production.   Despite Phil’s preposterous production Leonard’s words still shine, though some of his songs are poor, one or two shine through. ‘Paper Thin Hotel’ is very good, the title track also.  Leonard practically disowned the record and failed to tour it, but in a strange way I like it.  Best line – “The walls of this Hotel are paper thein, last night I heard you making love to him.  A heavy burden lifted from my soul, I learnt that Love was out of my control.”

Two years later and Leonard was resurrected.  1979 saw the release of one of his best records ‘Recent Songs’ – a deceptively simple title for a work of genius.  This is still one of my very favourite of his records.  It is almost perfection; not a bad track – and a new, more open, gentler voice; the songs are less vicious – if no less real and meaningful.  Lots of plaintive violin and deep bass, almost a waltzy feel to many of the songs too.  The album opens with ‘The Guests’ – one by one the guests arrive – as if welcoming one into the warmth of the record.  ‘Humbled In Love’ follows –‘ and you say you’ve been humbled in love, forced to kneel in the mud next to me’.  ‘The Window’ and ‘Came So far For Beauty’  areelegiac.  Then we have the sprightly tune to the sad French song ‘Un Canadien Errant’

Side two opens with two more sad songs ‘The Traitor’ and ‘Our Lady Of Solitude’ followed by a concert favourite ‘My Gypsy Wife’ Leonard saves the best for last; a sensuous duet with Jennifer Warnes ‘The Smokey Life’ and the final song ‘The Ballad Of The Absent Mare’.  I simply adore this record – it is really all of one piece – and maybe more than any other record established the idea of Leonard being ‘Depressing’ in the general population.  But I have always felt much much happier after listening to this one.  My reaction si almost always to want to play it again.

A live album of the 1979 tour came out in the late nineties – Field Commander Cohen; the band are in fine form and a great selection of songs, many from Recent Songs .  Best line ‘Take a lesson from these Autumn Leaves, they waste no time waiting for the snow – keep it light, light enough to let it go.’

Just recently, sucker that I am, I bought a live radio concert from the same year – Upon a Smokey Evening.  It’s pkay -sound quality a bit poor and no surprises.

Recent Songs

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Leonard Cohen

From the ridiculous (at times) to the sublime.  And I know that many people think Leonard is depressing, but I have found him to be understanding, serious at times, funny at others and ultimately uplifting.  To even attempt to understand matters of the heart is incredibly difficult, I know this as a writer myself; but to write unbelievable poetry – and put it to unique and warm melodies is simply incredible.  Only Dylan and Joni have really come anywhere close to Leonard in the modern era.

Now, a bit of History.  I first heard Leonard in 1969.  His first album had crept out, practically unnoticed two years earlier.  Carol and I were temporarily staying with three Canadians I was working with.  We had been thrown out again by her parents.  We slept on the sofa in a basement flat, sharing with not only the Canadians but an ever-changing mix of young women and men.  It seemed one long constant party; lots of drinking, smoking and loud music.  But as the nights wore on Leonard’s first album was put on the turntable and I fell in love with it.  Each song is basically just guitar (and he is a very good player too) and voice.  His producer paid Leonard the compliment of reading a book during the recording and interfering not at all.  When I got my first record player this was the first record I bought.  I must have played it thousands of times – and I never tire of it.  Every song is brilliant from ‘Suzanne’, through ‘The Sisters Of Mercy’ and ‘So Long Marianne’ right through to ‘One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong’.

Now Leonard was already 33 in 1967, an author and poet; and had been singing his poems to friends for a few years.  I think that the songs on this debut were probably the best he had at that time; he notoriously takes a long time to perfect his lyrics.  In many ways this album has never been bettered, in its bleak but very effective production it lays bare the words beautifully.  Love it.   Best line “If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn, I will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem”

1969 saw his second album Songs From A Room. It is of course excellent, though I have always relegated it to the second tier – despite three great songs ‘Bird On The Wire’, ‘Nancy’ and Lady Midnight’.  Maybe it is the production with the Electric Guitar and Orchestra seemimg to impinge on his vocals, maybe it is the bleak few songs about fathers and sons, maybe it is just me – because on re=listening it is of course great.  Just maybe not as great as his debut.  Best line – ‘Nancy was alone, a 45 beside her head, an open telephone’.  That simple item – an open telephone – is the moment of genius in the song.

Next – we have a live album ‘Live at The Isle of Wight 1970’.  This was not released until this century but it fits on here, as he was singing songs from mostly his first two records.  Well here we have a very early and nervous Leonard, talking a bit too much and uncertain of the crowd – many of whom would never have heard him before.  No real surprises here, but good renditions of his early songs.  Nice to hear him talking between songs, even if he was talking nonsense at times.  He recited a few snippets of poems too.   Best lines “Like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir – I have tried in my way to be free” an old song but a great line

Third album came a year later – and this is simply one of the very best – ‘Songs Of Love and Hate’.  What a great title – and the cover photo of an almost drunk Leonard sets the scene for some really emotional songs.   And from the opener ‘Avalanche’ the scene is set; some self-loathing, some worship, a lot of confusion – and miles of poetic intensity.  Musically it is a step forward too, the almost jolly ‘Diamonds in the Mine’ and the almost spoken ‘Last Year’s Man’.  But though all the songs are excellent the best are the two which were still in his live shows right to the end – ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ with it’s confusing trio (or is it a quartet) of characters – and ‘Joan of Arc’ a wonderful evocation of emotion and sacrifice, an epic poem indeed.  But the best line is ‘The skylight is like skin for a drum I’ll never mend.’  I am never sure what this really means but like all great poetry it simply works.

To complete this section we have maybe the strangest record in Leonard’s catalogue – Live Songs. (although Dear Heather comes close). Maybe because Leonard had not released anything for two years – a lifetime back then for recording artists – this mish-mash was released.  A handful of rather bland live versions of songs from his second album plus a 13 minute track ‘Please Don’t Pass Me By’ which he never officially released.  This song sounds almost as if was just a chorus and the rest made up during the performance.  He also sings a folk standard ‘Passing through’ which is quite wonderful. .  But the record is completed by a live reading of his morbid poem ‘Queen Victoria’ in a hotel room.  Bizarre in the extreme.  He later said ‘The album Live Songs represented a very confused and directionless time. The thing I like about it is that it documents this phase very clearly.’ Best line “Please don’t pass me by, for I am blind but you can see – Oh I’ve been blinded totally, please don’t pass me by.”

Songs Of Leonard Cohen

My Record Collection 54

Cockney Rebel – This group, the creation of lead singer and songwriter Steve Harley ( see H), burst onto the scene in 1972 or maybe it was ’73.  Anyway.  Heavily influenced in their style by Bowie – make-up and brilliantly designed satin-lapelled dinner jackets, but musically far more unique.  And Steve had a very sarcastic pronounced vocal delivery, instantly recognisable.  Featuring a resident electric violin and for the first 2 albums a full orchestra on most songs, they were certainly different.  In their way almost as influential as Bowie and T Rex, who the music press lumped them in with; I think they probably influenced Roxy too.

I bought the first album The Human Menagerie after hearing the incredible single ‘Sebastian’, which though never a hit was played on Radio 1 a lot.  To say I had never heard anything quite like it, is a cliché – but almost true in this case.  The songs were, to say the least, weird.  Sebastian itself is about – well I really don’t know despite thousands of listens.  There were very short songs like ‘Chameleon’ which builds and then stops; a couple of rockers – ‘Crazy Raver’ and ‘Mirror Freak’; and the piece de resistance, the final track ‘Death Trip’, which despite the title is quite an optimistic lyric (maybe); this song is a tour de force, a mini-symphony with grand swoops of strings and brass, choirs and recurring themes and at least three great melodies.  It remains one of the all-time classics and possibly my favourite Cockney Rebel album.  I saw them a few times with Joybells and we both loved them.  And still barely anyone knew about them.  This is often the most exciting period for both fans and band.

Within a year they released a second album – the much rawer ‘The Psychomodo’. This one spawned the hits ‘Judy Teen’ and ‘Mr. Soft.’, but overall it is not such a likeable record; too many shouty songs with no charm to them.  The record is saved by two classic songs; ‘Cavaliers’ and ‘Tumbling Down’ which resurrect the orchestral sweeps and great melodies of the first album.  But already the cracks were appearing and the band more or less revolted. Harley either let them go, or sacked them, depending on who you listen to.  There was no doubt that he was incredibly arrogant, and although a great songwriter he obviously had a higher opinion of himself than most of the music press, who he pissed off royally.  Mind you the departure of the band inspired him to write his biggest selling song ever – ‘Come Up and See Me (Make me Smile)’ which became a number one hit and is a favourite on the radio still.  Steve’s next record, The Best years Of Our Lives, credited now to Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel had a completely new band except for the drummer.  It is certainly better than Psychomodo, but there is no orchestra now at all and the songs, though good seem to lack something.  Maybe I am just being hypercritical.  Best songs ‘It Wasn’t Me’, ‘Panorama’ the title track – and of course ‘Come Up and See Me.’  And of course as so often happens – listening again, this is really quite a good record.

Album number four soon arrived – ‘Timeless Flight’.  And suddenly all the bombast and posing was over; this was almost a grown-up record; quieter, more reflective and actually really good.  Best songs are ‘Red is a Mean Mean Colour’, ‘All Men Are Hungry’ and the classic ‘Nothing Is Sacred’.  But the whole mood of the record is almost gentle, more slow numbers – and his vocals are better too.  Steve has (at a concert I attended) almost apologised for this record; no need to apologise – it is great as it is.

Later the same year and the last real Cockney Rebel album came out ‘Love’s A Prima Donna’.  The addition of Duncan Mackay, who later joined 10cc (see T) deepened the sound and two tracks are practically instrumentals and down to Duncan.  Steve returned to full on rock/pop group with this, which turned out to be the last official Cockney Rebel album. Some good songs overall and a splendid cover of George Harrison’s ‘Here Comes The Sun’.  Best songs – the title track and ‘Love Compared To You’.  But on the final track ‘Is It True What they Say’ Steve enters a world of his own adoration and disappears up his own arsehole….

Which is apposite as after this he went solo, dropping the Cockney Rebel completely.  And apart from a couple of cracking live albums and compilations – that is it from Cockney Rebel – at times the glammest of the glam, and a great little band.

The Human Menagerie

Where Are we? Does Anyone Really Know?

I could ask that question about almost anything these days; in fact it is probably the first thought I have on waking.  And truly I don’t think that anyone knows anything anymore.  The internet with all of that information, every encyclopaedia in the World and more is simply too much for anyone to take in.  The news leaves me more confused than before switching it on.  There are Climate Change Doomsayers and Deniers.  There are Trump Haters and Worshippers.  And most of all Brexit is still the huge dividing line in Britain.

We now have spent almost two years to come up with a deal for exiting, but still no real idea of the future trading relationship….exactly what were they doing in that time?   And even this deal, imperfect, flawed, but at least something is almost doomed to fail at the second hurdle (having limped over an ever distrustful and fractious Cabinet).  It seems almost certain that the ‘deal’ will not command a majority in Parliament.   Labour, because they are the Opposition, will of course oppose it; the SNP, because they are Scots, will oppose it, as will the few smaller parties.  But far more seriously the DUP, who May has pandered shamelessly to – will vote it down.  But worse than that many, maybe as many as 80 Mad Brexiteers will also vote it down, preferring the chaos of an immediate and final break with the EU rather than any degree of sense or continuity.

So, I repeat, where are we now – does anyone know?  Labour’s demands for a general election will not happen.  It would take many Tory votes to get this and they are running scared at the moment.  The idea of a Second Referendum is slowly gaining traction but unless either Corbyn or May asks for it, it won’t happen.  And even then the EU would have to grant us time to organise it – probably six months.  Then what would everyone be voting on?  The original question again? Or the current ‘failed’  deal or No deal,  or a three way including Remain?  And even worse – what if we get the same result – or even a very close one again.

Nothing will begin to heal the wounds of Brexit.  And the country will continue to drift aimlessly while everything just gets worse.