George Starostin's Reviews



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Christophe Veyrat <> (22.08.2001)

i love cohen as much as dylan for different reasons. at times i think cohen is a far better lyricist than dylan, he has a way of putting a lot of things in a few essential sentences. the main difference between the two is that dylan is emotional, more direct, cohen is much more cerebral. no stream of consciousness here, but very elaborate lyrics. i wouldn't call suzanne a love ballad, it is something of it own, in fact i would have trouble finding a single love ballad in his work, at least in the traditional sense of the word. true, his lyrics may seem puzzling at times, but they always have meaning. unlike dylan who can make you feel things with apparent nonsense, cohen doesn't try to make you feel things, he expresses ideas in an unclear but very thought out manner. it takes many listenings to come close to understanding what he is trying to say. but once you do you can only marvel at how it is expressed. i am surprised you didn't review his later albums as they are among his best. even the arrangements which may seem horrid at first turn out to perfectly "dress" the words. i tend to prefer dylan but cohen remains possibly the only genuine poet in music.

Robert Smith <> (01.03.2003)

Just as I thought...Another Dylan lover being unjustly unkind to Cohen....I notice you don't trash on his "views" or refer to his fans as "rednecks" as you did with Springsteen, but you fail to truly give him credit for what he has to say...Cohen, like Dylan and Lennon, is first and foremost a poet...He doesn't resort to psychedelic wordplay like Dylan or frustratingly banal like Lennon could do from time to time...I'm not saying he's perfect, but I find his melodies beautiful and haunting, his spare arrangements more than fitting his songs, and his voice, now deep and contemptful, has always been delicate and at the very least, not offensive...But anyhow, let me just say that only Cohen could display a great message like "I beat the bottle, but I had to do it drunk." That line makes all the sense in the world.


Chilli Palmer <> (08.12.2005)

Once upon a time, I recall reading some Amazon user comment about the Selected Poems of Leonard Cohen: 'Reading Cohen will get you laid'. And, just like loganberries, astrophysics and Beat literature, this album belongs to a small world of people who love it very much, and don't particularly care if the outside world doesn't get it. Compare it to Dylan, tell us the melodies are boring - we don't care. If you're not listening to Cohen for the lyrics, you're not really listening to Cohen. 'Suzanne' - the greatest song ever written about unrealised love. 'Sisters of Mercy' - love as a gift. Love as a game, as a lesson - Cohen covers it all. And he weaves through the album with his low voice and hypnotic guitar rhythms. Gentle waves in 'Suzanne'. Galloping horses in 'Teachers'. He'd just come off the artistic success of his second novel, 'Beautiful Losers' - at this point, Cohen was firing. This album creates a world in sound, and in word. And that's what a great album does.


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John Caulfield <> (20.10.2000)

("DRR":) How you can describe this songs lyrics as "indecipherable word games" is beyond me. This is one of Cohen's most straight forward lyrics. It is about an depressed man standing in front of a mirror and contemplating suicide. He decides that he needs to shave and then debates slashing the veins in his wrist with the razor knife. The lyics keep harking back to compare the happiness he knew in the past with the misery he is experiencing in the present. This only serves to make the present appear all the worse. The song develops brilliantly, with his glorious memories of lost love eventually causing him to clench his fist so that his "veins stand out like highways all along [his] wrist..." Eventually, Santa Clause (the same man in the mirror with a white beard [shaving cream]) shows him where to hit - cut his wrists - but he chickens out at the last minute and steps back to imagine a stunt man take his place. This was just a practice run (dress rehearsel) for the suicide to come.

I also cannot agree that Cohen's music lacks musicallity. Yes the arrangements are very sparse and minimalist, but the melodies are very strong. They are original, simple and memorable which for me is what melody is all about.

I agree that "Diamonds on the mine" is bad. It is in fact one of the worst songs Cohen has ever done. But this album is essential for its opener, "Avalanche" and many other tracks, including Let's sing another song boys. If you want to know what that one's all about let me know!

Fidel Juarez <> (31.10.2001)

Hello, George, my comments are anything but short, but here they go anyway: One of the darkest, most exhausting records I've ever listened to. And I love it. It does not have the cozy feeling in Dylan's "confessional" outputs, as in Blood on the tracks and numerous songs recorded with The Band, and neither does it have the raw sound of John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band. Somehow, I can relate Leonard Cohen's style in this album to Lou Reed's in Berlin: both records insist in an almost masochist manner (with the use of very efficient, supportive, strings and choruses) on the subjects of lost romances, squeaky individualism, death and suicide. I'm not getting away from the fact that Reed's album came a couple of years later, just like Patti Smith's Horses appeared later so: a step forward in the intrication of the words, closer to Van Morrison, but also: not too different from Songs of love and hate in their emotional overmeasure.

I'm not uncomfortable with excess as long as it isn't pursued for a sole effect, and I think this album succeds for some fo the following reasons: first, the instrumentation is beautiful (the opening guitar sets the mood, in "Avalanche" --I'd never heard a Leonard Cohen's song until then, and I kept the misconception for a few seconds that this track was purely instrumental); second, Cohen's disposition to completely ignore his singing abilities for a couple of times (unlike the cool, icy, Mr. Reed), going from lively to livelong, but (here's what I think is important) to distance himself from the songs themselves by remarking his presence. (If you think that this isn't necessary at all, keep in mind what the subjects of the songs are, lending themselves for an almost histerical treatment: picture the last moment in John Lennon's song, "Mother", without a fade out too sudden: not too pretty, but effective.) Finally, the lyrics are mostly not conclusive. This can set a comparison between Cohen and Dylan, particularly in "Sing another song, boys", my favorite, in which the listener can apply interpretations to loose sentences, all of them, relating to wasted opportunities in romance. Even a lesser track, like "Diamonds in the mine", can somehow fit in the record, in spite of being rather uncomfortable (it seems like a mad, drunken, successor of a resigned "Idiot wind"), because it can't be taken too seriously. I just think it's hilarious the way Cohen's shouts the words like there's no tomorrow.

This album, was my introduction to Leonard Cohen. I don't consider myself a fan though (not yet, as I still have to dig deeper into his body of work), and was a bit dissatisfied with Songs from a room, at first impression: now, that album turned out as a favorite of mine too, if not the album that gets my vote for the 'most beautifully sad record of all time'. (Cohen's not depressing, a poor album is.) Anyway... to finish my thoughts on Songs of love and hate, it turned out as a happy experience after all: I was intrigued by Cohen's talent to write and perform songs, stretching and disfiguring word meanings and his own singing (like in an expressionist film) to deal with appropiate deformed themes. Cerebral? I think so, as it allows a certain distance from the subjects. Read the lyrics to "Famous blue raincoat": it was just a letter, right?; now, take a listen to "Dress rehearsal rag": the guy's gonna commit suicide! But, again, whether the guy contemplates suicide or not (from the narrative aspect) isn't all that relevant, same goes for the authenticity of the letter. This album sure aims for emotions in a dramatic, theatrical manner. Another similarity to Lou Reed's Berlin, I think.

It could be argued that this album is kinda conformist in its constant romanticism (overblown emotions can't be the rule always), but that's what makes it so special (without mentioning that it's clearly distinguishable from his previous albums), and it's definitely not generic.


Aidan Wylde <> (06.10.2000)

George, about 'New Skin for the Old Ceremony': my understanding has always been that the song, 'Chelsea Hotel', was written for, and about, Janis Joplin. I can't remember why I believe that, but it has certainly put that song over the top for me -- I think it beautiful, poignant, and heartfelt. Janis vs. a hooker: does it make a difference?

John Caulfield <> (20.10.2000)

"Who By Fire?" is not just a list of people. It is a list of ways to die. It is taken pretty much directly (I am informed by a Jewish friend of mine) from a Jewish prayer that is said at some or other religious festival. It is, indeed, a great song.

'Leaving Greensleeves' (if you don't already know this) is a parody of an old English folk song called 'Greensleaves'. The words are very similar and the tune identical - I was surprised to see that Cohen actually took a songwriting credit for this. "Parody" in fact, may be the wrong word. What Cohen does is take a rather soppy ballad that mentions only the mystical or ethereal aspects of love and fill in the realities and messy? details of real physical sexual intercourse.

His last great album.


Didier Dumonteil <> (19.04.2001)

Forget sexuality.It doesn't scandalize anymore depuis belle lurette.What really matters here is production.See how P.Spector absorbs,engulfs every artist he produces:Here Cohen,but take a look at Turner,Dion,Ramones,even Harrison.Only Lennon was able to be produced by P.S without his records becoming Spector's records.Spector is unique in pop world.And "phagocitosing" the austere Cohen,what a feat!


Richard Fortier <> (22.06.2002)

I'm french canadian and I just want to say that Leonard Cohen does not sound like a french canadian when he sings "Un Canadien errant". He actually sounds more like a guy from Louisiana. A french canadian would never pronounce the word fugitif the way he does. I read on the internet that he was born in a jewish family in Montreal. If it's true then it seems very unlikely that he is french canadian. More than half of the people living in Montreal have english as their first language.

Luc Baronian (13.12.2002)

Two short comments on your appreciation of Leonard Cohen's rendition of Un Canadien errant. 1) You have to put yourself in the context of nationalist Quebec in the 1970s. The song originally was written in the late 1800s after the armed rebellions against the British had failed and many French-Canadians (then simply called Canadians) had to leave Quebec (or Lower Canada) and live in exile in the USA or elsewhere. So that in a period of political turmoil in 1979 (the first independentist government had just been elected and was preparing a referendum) an Anglophone Jewish Montrealer pains to sing this nationalist French-Canadian song basically saying "I am one of you" is VERY significant. 2) No Cohen doesn't sing like a French-Canadian, his accent is typical of English Canadians aiming at Canadian French, he is just clearly one of the worst. However, as a linguist, I would like to point out that judgements such as the one you made are entirely subjective and typically biased by socio-political conceptions. In the case of Canadian French, those who dislike it are often blinded by their admiration of current Parisian French and do not accept anything that is too far from it. Ironically, it is well-accepted by specialists that Canadian French is a descendent of 17th century Parisian French (and not a rural dialect as is often claimed) and simply took a different direction than in France. [Just to clarify - I made NO judgement whatsoever on Canadian French in this review, and thanks for the clarification - G.S.]

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