LEONARD COHEN - ALMOST LIKE THE BLUES
Almost like a [7.00]…
Mark Sinker: His voice is beyond superb now, of course: the dust of ages creaking up at you as you pad the dark trackless maze of corridors seeking the tomb of the lost pharaoh. And if that’s kitsch, well, kitsch is the line he’s trodden from the start, back in true 60s when people were beginning eagerly to argue whether and when pop and rock lyrics can be poetry, and he emerged to entirely muddy the question by already being a poet. The words here are evasive and playful — self-mockingly weightless gestures in the direction of the darkest matter — and if you can’t really begrudge an elderly man giving himself so serenely untroubling a time, you can still maybe feel a bit cheated, because he’s not giving you much either, beyond two or three half-good surprises in the way certain couplets unfurl.
Alfred Soto: The voice crumbled into a rasp that makes Bob Dylan after 2001 sound like Mary J, Cohen heaves paradoxes over bongos and a Patrick Leonard piano line. When he boasted more vocal, ah, nuance, he would have ironized the “torture, killing, and all my bad reviews” and burning villages instead of letting his guilt carry the tune, as it were; at the moment it sits there, daring us to find it offensive. I do. But most octogenarians don’t regard the act of recording as a benediction, nor do they admit to admit to distance to keep away the rot.
Anthony Easton: This pains me to say, because Cohen is one of the best song writers in the last half of the 20th century, with an aesthetic that has both flexibility and a strong consistency—and this has some fantastic lines, and one amazing gag line. But I am still a little bored of the production; he hasn’t really moved from the female back up singer/cocktail piano background since the mid-1990s. I wonder what would happen if he finagled that a bit.
John Seroff: Octogenarian Cohen lately flourishes enough vocal fry and Bukowski poetry to give sextagenarian Tom Waits a run for his money. It’s a likely necessary affect he’s leaned heavy into since 2010 and reflects the prevailing sound and mood on his latest album, Popular Problems. I rather like nu-Cohen’s gruff and gentle songs of experience; “Almost Like the Blues” feels shorter than its running time (always a good sign) and sits easy on the ears nestled among the Jukebox’s status quo crop of EDM firework shows, Brooklyn hipsters and bitches catchin’ bodies ‘bout a week ago. More old-folk pop, please; it’s good for the digestion.
Thomas Inskeep: Cohen does his gravelly-and-getting-gravellier-voiced thing at age 80, singing lyrics that only he could’ve written — say what you will about him, but the man has quite the distinctive lyrical (not to mention singing) voice. But what does him all the favors here is Patrick Leonard’s sympathetic production, full of touches and nuance that show he gets it: the lightly hit bongos, the surprising and subtle horn stabs, the jazzy piano. This is a superb match of singer, song and production.
Maxwell Cavaseno: It’s interesting that whereas your average classic singer-songwriter artist from those legendary times goes into jazz or country as the ‘root’ of their work, Cohen’s always enjoyed playing with schmaltzy kitsch. Here if feels almost Barry White-like, how he’s this titanic figurehead, except with such a uniquely perfected non-presence vocally. I wish he held a lot more of his black humor, instead seeming to forgo that for a sense of dignified melodrama that leaves me scratching my head. As Cohen’s twilight of years approach with every minute, is sentiment starting to chip away at the edges, or is the morose and moribund just not as appealing?
Edward Okulicz: If the world feels darker than it was 20 years ago, all the more reason for an even blacker “Everybody Knows.” Play this on some 80s synths and drum machines and it would fit quite nicely on Various Positions — and I dig that kitschy trumpet that pops up every so often. Cohen intones this with even more bleakness and gruffness than that description would suggest and the female backing vocals are exquisite counterpoint. Sound-wise, it touches all sorts of different buttons that make me confused as to whether it sounds modern or a period piece, but the problem is that while it’s always good to hear Cohen’s voice, this song’s not gripping; it doesn’t go anywhere because each verse is more or less the same. There are good lines, there are lines that may not be good but sound great in Cohen’s voice, and there are some that are downright dodgy (the second verse has all three). You’ve heard the first 50 seconds, you’ve heard the song. You’ve heard the last 50 years of Cohen’s career, you can predict the last stanza of each verse based on the second.
Megan Harrington: You won’t find much writing to suggest this, but it’s my strong suspicion that most of Leonard Cohen’s later career is the work his partner Sharon Robinson. She’s his longtime collaborator and back-up singer, and though this song is credited solely to him, she’s all over it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of his gravelly voiced gravitas, but what sets apart and refines “Almost Like the Blues” is Robinson’s wordless coos. Cohen is a well respected shrivelled husk and Robinson is the ribbons wound around the maypole. Together, they’re deeply affecting; I just wish we spent more time talking about her and her thoughts and her vision and her legacy.
Brad Shoup: Ta-da, he’s mordant, he’s sharp, Sharon’s still here. Dark was the night, ghoulish was the vicariism. Love is like a bottle of gin, but a bottle of gin is still awake at 4 AM. The bass flips through the international headlines while Cohen squeezes a grapefruit and notes the absolute distances between this place and those. This is pretty good; it’s not boring.
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