Songs Of Love And Hate

Leonard Cohen

Columbia, 1971

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


If a music collector alphabetizes his or her collection according to mood, no doubt Leonard Cohen would be in the ‘downer’ section next to Portishead, Cowboy Junkies and assorted breakup albums.

Already an established writer by the time his debut album came out in 1968, Cohen’s ghostly, Depression-era vocal delivery seemed like a transported era in the late ‘60s, where distorted feedback, spacey keyboards and squalling guitars were the radio norm.

Using minimal orchestration, Cohen’s weathered voice made my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Songs of Leonard Cohen a damn-near flawless debut. His third album, Songs of Love and Hate, doesn’t achieve quite the amazing peaks of Songs of Leonard Cohen but it’s probably his second finest recording – and a tremendously focused album.

“Avalanche” kicks off the album with a spaghetti Western-like guitar riff, ushering in Cohen’s weighty voice. With no repeating chorus, Cohen turns the song into an exercise in storytelling, needling in lines of spite like “Your pain is no credential here / it’s just a shadow of my wounds.”

Things don’t get much brighter throughout the album. And with little in terms to distract listeners music-wise, it’s Cohen’s vocals and lyrics that remain at the forefront. The simplicity of the album works perfectly with the premise (or at least title) of the album: virtually every song is a stark look at the way love and hate consumes the characters in Cohen’s songs.

Like Dylan, Cohen includes his share of Biblical imagery (as well as a thing for Joan of Arc), but the greatest strength on Songs of Love and Hate is the flat-honest diary-like lyrics. “It’s four in the morning, the end of December, I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better / New York is cold, but I like where I’m living / There’s music on Clinton Street all through the evening” opens “Famous Blue Raincoat.”

Sure, many struggling musicians may be frowning and saying “I could have written that” – but few singers make those words sound as profound as Cohen can.

The remastered edition of Songs of Love and Hate doesn’t give you much more than the regular version of the album, save an additional track (“Dress Rehearsal Rag”), a good write-up by Anthony DeCurtis and some nicer packaging. But for the reasonable price, it’s an album worth investigating if your only exposure of Leonard Cohen has come from the Natural Born Killers soundtrack.

Rating: B+

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© 2007 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia, and is used for informational purposes only.