The world lost another legend this year. The master of poetic folk Leonard Cohen has died, leaving behind an almost unfathomable legacy. A fourteen album career that lasted almost over five decades has left a powerful mark on music and the world as we know it. From his poetic beginnings to his final effort (2016's You Want It Darker), Leonard Cohen created a cult following rivaled by few and changed millions of lives through his art.
One of his most powerful works was his third record Songs Of Love and Hate. Released in 1971, it quickly became a cult classic. It's not too diverse of a record, especially when compared to his previous efforts, but it solidified his niche as the dark folk artist and the emotional focus on the record proved to make it powerful. Many critics claim it is one of the darkest records you may ever hear, and that may very well be true.
The emotion of the album isn't plainly obvious, but it's impossible to not feel it. The album gets off to a paranoid start with 'Avalanche,' frantic, plucked acoustic guitar opening the record with aesthetic strings following it closely behind. The song is based off of his previously released poem 'I Stepped Into An Avalanche,' drawing lyrics directly from the poem. The song is almost disturbing in a cinematic way, Cohen's defeated and cold voice calmly attacking the subject. It's a damning view on humanity, a verse angrily chanting "The cripple here that you clothe and feed / Is neither starved nor cold / He does not ask for your company / Not at the center of the world," bashing those who help the poor for the sake of attention. The song's chorus is perhaps even more haunting: "You who wish to conquer pain / You must learn what makes me kind / The crumbs of love that you offer me / They're the crumbs I've left behind / Your pain is no credential here / It's just the shadow of my wound," revealing the unwillingness he has to open his heart, which has experienced pain like no other before.
The darkness of this track isn't fully emulated in the same way throughout the record, but there are places where the violence of the words is just as great. 'Love Calls You By Your Name' channels the frantic acoustic, but it overall sounds more positive than 'Avalanche.' Looks, however, can be deceiving. 'Love Calls You By Your Name' is full of hatred in its lyrics, angry at love and what it has caused. The orchestras add the drama to the track just as they did 'Avalanche,' yet the optimism of them contrasts the track's meaning. The track is more like an unpleasant memory of a past love, the dreaminess of the memories tarnished by their negativity.
Some songs use his signature poetic diction to get the message across. 'Last Year's Man' is a song about an obsessive love that Cohen experienced from afar. It's gentle and retrospective, almost in a reprimanding way. The song feels longing, as if it still seeks this unrequited love it never received. There's a brilliant allusion to the Old Testament and New Testament in the track, amazing symbolism for a man's love affair. 'Sing Another Song, Boys' also uses poetry to amplify it's meaning, with Cohen sounding almost tortured above the powerful track with an uncharacteristic sing-a-long at the end.
There's a reason this album was dubbed the album to cut your wrists to. It becomes most evident in 'Dress Rehearsal Rag,' perhaps the most tortured song on the record. It's self-destructive, angry, and full of self-loathing. The song has a powerfully strummed acoustic guitar paired with cinematic orchestras, but those all take a supporting role to the meaning. The narrator seems to be battling with addiction and suicide, the first verse already full of hatred: "Now if you can manage to get / Your trembling fingers to behave / Why don't you try unwrapping / A stainless steel razor blade?" Full of powerful imagery and dark, raw emotion, this is a song that doesn't escape you.
There are sweeter songs, but none are devoid of some form of anger or deceit. The popular 'Famous Blue Raincoat' is a letter exchange between a love triangle - a tragically difficult situation. The song is pretty and retrospective, a woman's crooning in the background giving the love triangle scenario some imagery. It's a song of betrayal and tragedy, caught between the heartbreaking threads of "Your famous blue raincoat [that] was torn at the shoulder." The album ends on the quieter track 'Joan Of Arc,' a continuation of 'Last Year's Man' and 'Famous Blue Raincoat,' but more of an acceptance. The song gives up hope and recalls what he wanted so badly for all this time, but he realizes that this thrill could only have lasted so long. The love is still there, but the hope that she would share his feelings are gone. This album's tragedy comes to an end, but that doesn't stop it from haunting you whenever it strikes you.
Leonard Cohen's folk beginnings were the roots of his career. His dark poetry came out in its purest form on these first folk records, and Songs Of Love and Hate truly channel some of the most tragic emotions. Cohen left behind a legacy for millions to appreciate and cling to for centuries to come, while the impact of his music affecting everyone who hears them in the same way as when they first heard them. Cohen is a timeless act, and while he may no longer be with us, he will continue to burn bright in our hearts.
Favorite Tracks: Avalanche, Dress Rehearsal Rag, Famous Blue Raincoat
Least Favorite Track: Diamonds In The Mine
Rating: 90 / 100