Record of the Day: Leonard Cohen, "Songs of Love and Hate"

Record of the Day: Leonard Cohen, “Songs of Love and Hate”

Leonard Cohen
Songs of Love and Hate (Cd Columbia 32219)

If you're not in the best of moods, maybe it's best to skip today's album. “Songs of Love and Hate”, published by the great Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen in 1971, is in fact one of the darkest and most melancholic records you can listen to; why do I recommend it, then? Simply because it is a masterpiece of its kind, and it is the best testimony to the great poetic talent of this important author.

With minimal instrumentation (guitar, strings, a children's choir and little else) that supports his deep voice, full of anxieties, Cohen describes with severe but unforgettable melodies a comédie humaine with a pessimism worthy of Beckett or Cioran. Men and women mortally wounded by passion, dispersed, marked by a total lack of communication in interpersonal relationships, branded, destroyed in body and soul by suffering and yet always ready to start again, perhaps repeating the mistakes made previously.

It is a world of shadows and rain, of total solitude and desolate environments, where affections are often reduced to shreds of memory; desperate existences but with an eye always turned towards hope, where the “evil of living” of Montalian memory is tempered by a tireless curiosity for life.
Complex concepts are expressed along a spartan sound fabric to the point of asceticism, where absolutely nothing is done to wink at the listener, on the contrary; he is invited to follow Cohen on an arduous journey which only pays rich dividends of beauty when he has reached the end.

Only Bob Dylan was able to express on a poetic and musical level the expressive tension that Cohen achieves in this work by plumbing the depths of his own soul with the precision of an anatomopathologist and the pietas of an artist who, precisely because of human imperfections, has an infinite love for them.

The titles contained are all memorable, from “Avalanche” to “Last Year's Man” to “Famous Blue Raincoat” and “Joan of Arc”, the most famous song on the album. The man who slowly slides into the abyss of “Dress Rehearsal Rag” and the one who sings until he enters a trance in the heartbreaking “Sing Another Song, Boys” are brothers in their common failed balance of existence, and whether Cohen talks about love or hate (as the title of the album suggests) sadness envelops everything like a shroud.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.