Review Summary: Cohen's latest album fails to achieve poignancy. While none of the songs are bad and the album sets a nice mood, it is ultimately a disappointment.
Unlike many popular musicians Canadian song writer Leonard Cohen is first and foremost a poet. His first book of poetry, titled Let Us Compare Mythologies
was released in 1956, while his first album was released in 1967 eleven years later. Songs of Leonard Cohen
was a subdued, though powerfully emotional album. While it was critically acclaimed and remains a favourite among many music fans today, it was too gloomy for mainstream success. Having released what is considered by many to be one of the best debut albums in history, Leonard Cohen
went on to become one of the most influential song writers of our time. In 1971 he took his melancholic compositions to a new level with Songs of Love and Hate
. In the eighties, he abandoned his folk roots for a new, synth-based sound, as evident on I’m Your Man
, which features the remarkable “Tower of Song”. In 2004 Cohen released Dear Heather
, an album revolving around mortality and love, as a final chapter to an impressive career.
sounds like what you would expect from Leonard Cohen at this age. The songs are delicate, focusing on Cohen’s aging, ragged, baritone, combined with a gospel choir, around which Cohen weaves his stories. Generally, the songs deal with love and death. Leonard Cohen sounds like a man who knows and accepts that he will soon be facing death. This all sounds well and good, but somewhere along the way something goes wrong.
Lord Byron’s poem “Go No More A-Roving” is put to music on the albums first track. It’s is a calm, emotional song, and Cohen’s composition suits the poetry well. It works well, although its success might be attributed to Byron moreso than Cohen. It sets the sombre mood for the album, and lets you know what you’re in for. The problem is that, and it really hurts me to say so about Cohen, the album is just dull. It’s a nice album to set a mood, but the songs don’t seem to reach out or achieve anything. They should
be poignant, but somehow they fail to connect. It sounds cynical to say so but neither the love song “The Letters” the 9/11 tribute “On That Day” or Cohen’s rendition of the country love-lost song “Tennessee Waltz” really connect with me. Several of the songs might have been good in a different context, but the depressing atmosphere drags on and on and becomes dreadfully boring.
The same things can really be said of all the albums songs. They’re all gentle, rather depressing, lyrically interesting, but they never seem to reach the emotional height of Songs of Love and Hate
or Songs of Leonard Cohen
. The albums best lyrical moments (The aforementioned “Go No More A-Rowing” and “Villanelle For Our Time”, the latter by Frank Scott) have been written by other poets. In the album’s defense, it’s quite a coherent collection of song. The underlying themes of love and death bind the album together, but eventually the album becomes tedious. Dear Heather
is poetic, subtle, elegant, and it should have been a remarkable farewell to a remarkable artist. What we’re left with are the scraps and pieces of a poet who used to be able to, as Brave New World’s Helmholz puts it, write piercingly. I’ve listened to the album countless times, and it still seems to me like his talent has been dulled on this album. Even though there isn’t a truly bad song here, Dear Heather
was a huge disappointment