Album: Leonard Cohen

Dear Heather, COLUMBIA
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The Independent Culture

If there were ever any lingering doubt that, contrary to the widespread perception of him as some kind of suicidally miserable poet, Leonard Cohen is actually one of the funniest men in music, it should finally be dispelled by "Because Of", the second track on this latest collection of observations from the twilight of life.

If there were ever any lingering doubt that, contrary to the widespread perception of him as some kind of suicidally miserable poet, Leonard Cohen is actually one of the funniest men in music, it should finally be dispelled by "Because Of", the second track on this latest collection of observations from the twilight of life.

Like several songs on Dear Heather, it concerns the inevitable waning of libidinal desire, an entirely appropriate consideration for a ladies' man on the unfortunate side of 70. "Because of a few songs wherein I spoke of their mystery," he muses, "women have been exceptionally kind to my old age/ They make a secret place in their busy lives, and they take me there/ They become naked in their different ways/ And they say, 'Look at me, Leonard/ Look at me one last time'/ Then they bend over the bed/ And cover me up like a baby that is shivering." Did I say funny? Make that funny and moving at the same time, a trick he's been pulling off for several decades.

Like 2001's Ten New Songs, this album features Cohen working closely with his current team of "angels", producer/engineer Leanne Ungar, and singers Sharon Robinson and Anjani Thomas, whose soothing, siren tones take the lead on several songs, offering refreshment for his baritone murmur. It sounds much less homogeneous than Ten New Songs, however, despite the songs' shared palette of double bass, faltering keyboards, breathy sax and string pads. This is partly to do with fractured, semi-spoken oddities such as "Morning Glory" and "Dear Heather" itself, the latter finding Cohen so dumbstruck by a passing girl with "your legs all white from the winter" that he's eventually reduced first to repeating the line over and over, then to just spelling it out, letter by letter. It might also have something to do with the inclusion of "On That Day", a brief song about "that day they wounded New York", which is the kind of small-scale tribute that shames the pompous blather of such as Alan Jackson and Toby Keith.

The closest that Dear Heather comes to the previous album's smooth sensuosity are "There For You", a slinky expression of selfless devotion, and "Go No More A-Roving", a rumination on the ebbing of desire. Elsewhere, the concluding live rendition of "Tennessee Waltz" is supported by the earlier "Nightingale", a simple number which one can easily imagine being covered by Dolly Parton. The centrepiece of the album, however, is the lengthy spoken piece "Villanelle for Our Time", an aphoristic statement of moral certitude in which Cohen expresses his hope that mankind might stop "steering by the venal chart that tricks the mass for private gain". Some hope - but then again, some hope.

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