Leonard Cohen is a name that stirs many emotions within artsy intellectual types, born in the province of Quebec, Canada he has carved out a role over the years as something of the bourgeoisie granddaddy of folk songwriting standing in stark contrast to the everyman roots of Bob Dylan and the playful, dog on the prowl bad-assery of Tom Waits. This trio of songwriters are often seen as holding something of an elite standard for the craft, generally offering a relevant, poetic touch to their lyrical style but if there is one thing that also makes them distinct as a collective group it's that all three can't sing a damn note.
At least, that is the most common level of criticism hurled at Cohen and co. On reflection 1967's The Songs of Leonard Cohen
is held in high regard as one of the greatest acoustic folk albums of all time by modern critics, but the Canadian songsmiths career may have never kicked off at all if Cohen didn't have the fortitude to shake off the laughter of all the professional musicians and audiences he encountered who felt his high baritone voice was the epitome of dreary. Regardless of this his career continued on, and he managed to release several albums such as Songs of Love and Hate
(1971), New Skin For Old Ceremony
(1974) and Death of A Ladies Man
(1977) which built him a cult fanbase amongst the artsy folk crowd carving out the legend of Cohen as an influential songwriting force whose work has been covered and popularised hundreds of times by other, much more visible artists.
delivered Cohen into the 90's, coming after a period of flirtation with the 80's new wave synthesizer trend with 1988's I'm Your Man
. The melancholic acoustic folk which characterised the days of The Songs of Leonard Cohen
are nowhere to be found on The Future
, Cohen's voice having deepened to an exceptionally gravelly baritone whilst the arrangements of the record opt for a vague extension of the new wave feel of it's predecessor with a modern day lounge/jazz influence dictating it. The opening title track makes this clear from the beginning, most famous for it's inclusion in Oliver Stone's 1994 cinematic exercise in tasteless sex, violence and social commentary Natural Born Killers The Future
is an infectious blend of organ, smooth basslines and gospel harmonies as Cohen sings of jaded dissatisfaction in a tasteless, dystopic society ("Give me crack and anal sex/Take the only tree that's left/Stuff it up the hole in your culture/Give me back the burning wall/Give me Stalin and St. Paul/I've seen the future brother, it is murder
is based around a pitch bending synth melody as Cohen sings about a classy night out with the ladies ("All the women tear their blouses off/And the men they dance on the polka-dots/and it's partner found, it's partner lost/and it's hell to pay when the fiddler stops/It's closing time
") whilst a militaristic drum roll forms the core of the loop behind Democracy
, a warbling electronic bass providing an appropriate background to lyrics about Cohen's cynical political observations ("Im sentimental, if you know what I mean/I love the country but I cant stand the scene/And Im neither left or right/Im just staying home tonight/Getting lost in that hopeless little screen
"). If there is one thing that becomes evident after these two stellar tracks it is that one of Cohen's major weaknesses has always been arrangements, and possibly the weakest point of The Future
is that two thirds of it are slow gloomy, ballads that aren't really that distinctive.
Waiting For The Miracle
is the best of these, as a simple, percussive rhythm arrangement loops slowly with some bass, keyboards and piano making a smooth, relaxing accompaniment for its romantic lyrics ("Ah baby, let's get married/We've been alone too long/Let's be alone together/Let's see if we're that strong/Yeah let's do something crazy/Something absolutely wrong
holds a similar tone, but features some nice female backing vocals in the chorus ("Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in
"). Light As The Breeze
is probably the first variation of this that starts to feel bland, but it's lyrics remain solid nonetheless ("So I knelt there at the delta/at the alpha and the omega/at the cradle of the river and the seas/And like a blessing come from heaven/for something like a second/I was healed and my heart was at ease
is a little more bluesy with its guitar licks, but rolls at the same slow, very pedestrian pace. Tacoma Trailer
ends the album with an instrumental bass and piano piece that doesn't sound much more different to any of these, but is still a fine track which is probably best without Leonard singing over it.
Despite its inconsistency The Future
holds up as a very good album overall, with a unique sound for early 90's Cohen featuring a nicely cynical touch to his lyrics at best and merely average piano ballad fare at worst. It's a very mature album thematically, this and Leonard's gravelly voice at risk at putting people to sleep but otherwise charming once you learn to adapt to it. It is probably an album for the old and weary at heart, or maybe just the old and weary. Still, it's good and a worthwhile listen.