Review: Leonard, the maestro of misery? You must be joking

.

So it's `official': Leonard Cohen makes the most depressing music on the planet According to the virtual visitors to `The Band' magazine's website, at least Which is, in a way, quite depressing, writes Andy Gill Not the music itself, but that so many punters should consider Cohen's work in such narrow terms There's some confusion here What are the criteria for inclusion? Nick Cave's Murder Ballads, for instance, is not depressing, just ghoulish; and just because their protagonists may have committed suicide does not make The Manic Street Preachers' The Holy Bible, Joy Division's Closer or Nick Drake's Way To Blue particularly depressing works, other than in their capacity to remind one of the deceased In the case of Drake's work, especially, it would seem that people are voting for the suicide rather than the work, which has a light, pastoral quality - indeed, it is the contrast between his work and his fate that fuels the enigma of Nick Drake

Few, however, would quibble with the inclusion of Lou Reed's wrist-slitter Berlin, and even Cohen himself, I'm sure, would appreciate the irony of achieving the dubious honour of being voted the maestro of misery with a greatest hits collection

What's more intriguing, though, is the list of possible candidates who have been ignored by the voters Where, for instance, are the unremittingly gloomy albums from last year by Radiohead and The Verve? Perhaps hindsight is a prerequisite for such judgements, or maybe people just weren't prepared to admit that albums they'd bought so recently could be such thoroughgoing downers

Reputations have to be worked at, and there's no denying that Leonard Cohen has put in the necessary hours over the keyboard honing his crepuscular odes There's a famous tale of Cohen and Dylan meeting a few years ago and expressing mutual admiration Enquiring how long a particular song of Cohen's took to write, Dylan was informed that the Canadian poet had worked on the piece in question for some three or four years When Cohen asked about one of his favourite Dylan songs, he was told, "Oh, about 15 minutes" It's a revealing vignette that speaks volumes about the two artists' working methods - Dylan the spontaneous primitive, Cohen the meticulous wordsmith

But are Leonard Cohen's songs actually depressing? Aside from specific instances such as "Dress Rehearsal Rag", in which a potential suicide grimly contemplates a razor-blade, I don't really think so Cohen's reputation is a clear case of style over substance: people hear that lugubrious baritone and immediately assume that what he's singing must be the most depressing thing imaginable, when the opposite is often the case It's a situation he acknowledges with characteristic irony in the elegiac "Tower Of Song", one of his finest compositions: "I was born like this, I had no choice/I was born with the gift of a golden voice" It's typical of the way in which, particularly in his most recent studio albums, The Future and I'm Your Man, Cohen has developed a fine, laconic sense of drollery, particularly with regard to matters of the flesh and the heart

There's a true comedian's sense of timing, for instance, in the way he condenses aching cuckold bitterness into the sucker-punchline of "Everybody Knows", while remaining coolly aloof: "Everybody knows you've been discreet/but there were so many people you just had to meet/without your clothes" It's doubtful, too, whether the potentially tricky subject of cunnilingus will ever be dealt with more elegantly - and erotically - than in "Light as the Breeze": "So I knelt there at the delta/at the alpha and the omega/at the cradle of the river and the seas" Such silver-tongued style! It's no wonder that, of all the singer-songwriters, he retains the most extensive and devoted of female followings

Though his early reputation as the poet of introspective, existential gloom apparently remains unassailable - as witness the current cheery British Heart Foundation television advert (for what, exactly?) featuring a man toppling over in the street with a heart attack as Cohen croons "Waiting For The Miracle" - Cohen himself has broadened his approach to address wider concerns of politics and culture, to which he applies a devastating fusillade of wit These are far gloomier subjects than he's dealt with in the past, but the mature Cohen realises that his greatest weapon is not misery but humour, that a cutting couplet is so much more effective than self-pity

Not, of course, that Cohen would care that much about his reputation one way or the other: for the past few years, he's spent an increasing proportion of his time in a zen monastery high on a Californian mountain, seeking spiritual equilibrium the way others seek fame, drugs or political power

Meanwhile, another Spice Girls single is released next week Now that really is depressing

Music to mope to

1 Leonard Cohen Greatest Hits 2 Lou Reed Berlin 3 Nick Drake Way to Blue 4 Joy Division Closer 5 Tindersticks Second Album 6 Manic Street Preachers The Holy Bible 7 Red House Painters Double Album 8 Baby Bird Dying Happy 9 Tricky Pre-Millennium Tension 10 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Murder Ballads

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Process Improvement Analyst (Testing)

    £40000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    Service Delivery Manager - Derivatives, Support,

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Delivery Manager - (Derivatives, Support...

    Technical Account Manager - Java, FIX Protocol, FIX 5.0, C++

    £30000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Technical Account Manager - Java,...

    WPF .NET Developer

    £300 - £350 per day: Harrington Starr: WPF Analyst Programmer NET, WPF, C#, M...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform