Where To Start With… Leonard Cohen
Veteran Canadian troubadour Leonard Cohen releases his thirteenth studio album Popular Problems next week - just one day after his 80th birthday. One of the most iconic and influential singer-songwriters of the twentieth century, Cohen's lyrics manage to be witty, heartfelt, honest and sly, usually all at the same time. With a career spanning all the way back to 1967, Cohen's body of work is littered with gems but can be daunting just because he's been around for so long. So we've picked five Leonard Cohen tracks to get you started….
The opening track from his debut record Songs Of Leonard Cohen, ''Suzanne' is still one of Cohen's best known tracks. It's a lovely little tale of (possibly) unrequited love, which was supposedly inspired by Suzanne Verdal, then-girlfriend of sculptor Armand Vaillancourt. Verdal later claimed nothing happened between her and Cohen, which makes his lyrics about how he 'touched her perfect body with [his] mind' even more poignant.
'Famous Blue Raincoat'
This dark, brooding ballad from Cohen's third album Songs Of Love And Hate sees Cohen addressing an unnamed man with whom he's involved in a love triangle around a girl named Jane. It's an excellent example of Cohen's brilliant storytelling, with vignettes of raincoats getting torn and hints at a tragic ending (he only addresses the other man as 'my brother, my killer').
Famously covered by the late Jeff Buckley (and, ahem, Alexandra Burke), Leonard Cohen's original version is definitely worth listening to if you've never heard it. Whereas Buckley's take is tender and beautiful, Cohen is much more gruff and bitter. It's almost like his hallelujah is sarcastic, but it's no less heartfelt.
'First We Take Manhattan'
A complete departure for Cohen; instead of his normal, stripped-back acoustic style, 'First We Take Manhattan' is a very 80s synth-pop track. It works though - his deep vocals combine with a pounding bassline and ominous lyrics about military invasions, and it all comes together perfectly. On his 1988 tour, he took another musical left-turn with the song, debuting a more funk-influenced arrangement.
'I'm Your Man'
The title track from the 1988 album that also gave the world 'First We Take Manhattan', ‘I'm Your Man' is a great example of later-period Cohen. He's really grown into his gravely deep voice, which adds a real sense of earth and grit to this actually rather sweet love song. The song also lent its title a 2006 documentary about Cohen, which also featured covers of his songs from the likes of Jarvis Cocker and Nick Cave.
Leonard Cohen's new album Popular Problems is released on Monday (September 22nd) and is available for pre-order in hmv stores now.
You can find all the tracks above in our download store