As I was watching the latest season of True Detective, I thought two things. 1. The internet was way too harsh on this second season. It was a really cool, interesting, amazingly made and acted show. 2. I love the handful of Leonard Cohen songs I’ve heard over the years. Why don’t I listen to him more? While I can’t correct the thinking of every internet troll out there badmouthing a super cool show, I can correct my lack of Cohen experience. Which I did, with Songs From a Room.
I guess my limited experience with Leonard Cohen is restricted to his later works. Because the first thing that stood out as Bird on a Wire kicked off Songs From a Room is how young and fresh voiced he is. The later songs I know are almost spoken more than sung, in what I assumed was Cohen’s signature ominous baritone. But this is real singing and a flowing melody, telling a melancholic story over melancholic instrumentation that’s as tragic as it is beautiful.
Story of Isaac is more in the talk-singing style I expected from Cohen, but it has that younger sound of the previous track to still make it different and fresh to my ears. What wasn’t unexpected was Cohen’s story telling style. Even when I don’t listen to the lyrics close enough to get the specifics, there’s just something in his delivery and cadence that gives these songs a narrative. A beginning, middle and an end.
Which is definitely the case with A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes. It’s the kind of title that immediately evokes cinematic visions of a story unfolding on the big screen. And the song delivers on that with its acoustic, almost mariachi guitar and sweeping builds towards grandeur. As The Parisian opens with the line, “As they poured across the border”, it straight away works as a sequel to Lonesome Heroes. Even with its chorus sung in French, It sounds like the coolest, bleakest western I’ve never seen.
It’s that sound that flows through the rest Songs From a Room and makes it work as a coherent whole. The Old Revolution, The Butcher and Lady Midnight be about different characters, but the sounds like their about different characters all from the same narrative universe. Over the course of 10 songs and a little over half an hour, Leonard Cohen and Songs From a Room build and populate a world of completely believably real people who live in these three and four minute chunks of musical melodrama.