Tuesday, February 14, 2012


She said "I'm tired of the war,
I want the kind of work I had before,
a wedding dress or something white
to wear upon my swollen appetite."

The above lyrics come from "Joan of Arc",  the last song on Leonard Cohen's third and possibly darkest album,  SONGS OF LOVE AND HATE (1971). The album can be seen as  a mood piece of sorts, dealing fearlessly with the title's contradictory themes in a maze of allusions that  both repel and attract.  Cohen visits religion, sex,  and sickness in these songs,  couching them in wonderfully spare acoustic settings,  allowing only brief string arrangements, a lone horn,  and women's and children's voices to intrude upon his expressively abrasive voice. The album would have been better served by omitting the rocking duo of "Diamonds in the Mine" and the live track,  "Sing Another Song, Boys"  as they serve as rollicking interruptions more than anything else.  On the subject of those twins,  love and hate,  Cohen vacillates between the polar opposites of self-exaltation and ceasing to exist,  often crumbling into an abyss of resignation.

                         Yes,  and thanks for the trouble you took from her eyes
                              I thought it was there for good,  so I never tried 

"Avalanche" begins the album with the picked momentum of an arpeggiated hive,  its guitar pushing the singer's disgust and incoherence to the fore.  We hear Cohen's words calmly spell out a relationship's demise,  an end born out of a suffocating confusion. "Dress Rehearsal Rag" may be the most intense suicide note ever written, his voice filled with aggression and ridicule,  and often aimed squarely at himself.  "Joan of Arc" finds finality filled with consummations and contradictions, both spiritual and of the flesh. Here is where he admits his appetites and his capacity to willingly enter love and hate's glaring  maze,  a heart's longing in all of us.

                                           Myself,  I long for love and light
                                      But must it come so cruel and so bright?

These songs enter a realm known primarily to European artists,  whose world-weary utterances would be more familiar to fans of Nick Cave,  Scott Walker and especially Jacques Brel. Even the settings here owe less to an American folk sensibility than to French chanson and art songs.  The la, la la la, la la la ending of "Joan of Arc"  suggests a loss of language as words atrophy and fall away. Like the album cover,  it's all about the blackest black and whitest white ever and the contradictory emotions inherent in any relationship.

                                 Happy Valentine's Day anyway!

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