In 1967, a succesful Jewish Canadian poet and novelist called Leonard Cohen decided to try his hand at songwritting. The result was a dark, longing, melancholic album called "Song Of Leonard Cohen". In 1969, he followed this album up with an even more melancholic offering called "Songs From A Room".
The two albums are similar, there is no question about it. Yet, "Songs From A Room" seems to intensify almost every aspect of his first album - the songs here that are meant to be melancholic, claustrophobic, and longing, are much more so than same style of songs on the first album. Likewise, the more optimistic songs are more optimistic on this album than on his first. The only aspect of his first album that is MORE intense than his second are the dark, disturbing, haunting themes of the song 'Teachers'. So, this album is more intensified - but is it 'better'?
Bird On A Wire
The most well-known song on this album, 'Bird On A Wire' is a favourite of Cohen fans the world over. In the days before Cohen's voice dropped a few octaves due to excessive smoking (of what is debatable), it was a great tool used by Cohen to paint on the canvas of the brain the pictures his lyrics and melodies evoke. This is especially true on 'Bird', where Cohen's voice carries an edge of sadness throughout the song, and the bridge passages between the verses especially convey the longing to be free. The song itself is about looking to the future while having regrets. As a result, it is quite sad, but there is a vague hopeful aspect about the song. 4/5
Story Of Isaac
This song is based on the famous story of the sacrifice of Isaac from the Old Testament, as told through the eyes of Isaac. Whilst the first two verses are about the story, the third and fourth verses very much question the authenticity of Abraham's vision, and even questions religion and IT'S authenticity. Thought-provoking lyrics aside, Cohen makes good use of incidental background instruments (i.e. strings and organ), and the guitar and bass are unobtrusive and yet prominent. A memorable vocal line, too. 4.5/5
A Bunch Of Lonesome Heros
Musically, the most upbeat song on the album, this is also the only song on the album to feature drums. This song seems like a narrative but also questions why we put the amount of faith into 'heros' that we do, but is ultimately a tribute, of sorts, to heros. A great song this, with a good use of all the instruments and just all round great music. 5/5
Based on a song by French song writers who wrote resistance songs called "Song of the French Partisan", this tells the story of the French Partisans during Wolrd War 2. One of the best on the album, with haunting instrumental backing and ghostly, ethereal backing singers. This song is very melancholic, but is also one of pride, which shines through the music beautifully. 5/5
Seems So Long Ago, Nancy
A sad, reflective song, about an 'easy' girl in the sixties. For me, this is perhaps the weakest song on the album, as, while it is good, fails to mark itself out particularly. 3.5/5
The Old Revolution
The feel of this song is quite similar to Lonesome Heros. The lyrics are, as always, thought provoking, and the fact that it is in a major key provides the song with some bitter irony, given the nature of the lyrics. Musically, it's great, too. 5/5
Musically, very sluggish in feel, and uses intentionally out of key chords, this song somehow manages to be actually very good (it is important to remember about Cohen, that the music is meant to reflect the lyrics, and it is the lyrics that are the main foucs of the songs. Hence, the sluggish guitar and the out of key chords wonderfully support the lyrics). Sticks in your head, this one. 4.5/5
You Know Who I Am
God knows what the lyrics are about, this song is a good one, with a good guitar line and interesting harmonic changes. The vocal line is unremarkable during the verse, but shines during the chorus. Whilst I orignally really like this song, it can grow old quite quickly. 4/5
A song about Leonard trying to hit it off with a woman (who is, of course, a metaphor - for what, though, I'm not so sure). There is no real 'chorus' as such, but there are three verses, each of which spans three musical 'sections' (the last of which could be considered a chorus if the lyrics didn't change every time). A great sing-along song. 5/5
Tonight Will Be Fine
This song is the most optimistic on the album. Like the album opener, it is about Cohen trying to look in the future whilst remembering the past, and any regrets he might have. The chorus provides the optimism, letting the listener know that "Tonight will be fine for a while". Really, that line sums up not only the whole song, but the message of the album - that, no matter what's happened, there's a chance things may just end up OK.
This album is a good, solid album, and should be in any Cohen fan's collection. Whilst it intensifies on most aspect of Cohen's debut album, the songs are not as intricately constructed as those on Song Of Leonard Cohen (with the exception of Lonesome Heros and The Partisan), and hence as a result, just slightly falls short of being better than its predessecor. Ultimately, the songs on this album do not have as long a lasting appeal as those on Cohen's debut; bar a few songs, the album grows stale over time. Nonetheless, Songs From A Room is a good album, and is good album for those new to Cohen to listen to after becoming familiar with the debut.