Thursday, October 31, 2002
Outside of the rarified world of the truly tapped-in, this Canadian singer is a relative unknown. Which might be one of the great mysteries of popular music of the last 40 years--if anyone on the planet stands toe-to-toe with Bob Dylan as a composer of incredible gifts, it''s this gentleman.
Beginning with his best-known melody and lyric, "Suzanne," and winding down through his late ''80''s/early ''90s output, gathered in this two-CD set, the poet assays wildly sketched imagery on the opener, winds through detached observations on "Sisters of Mercy" and "Chelsea Hotel," and goes quasi gospel on "So Long, Marianne" (presumably about Ms. Faithfull), "Hallelujah" and "Who By Fire," and rolls out litanies of discontent and longing on "I''m Your Man" (with its minor key swagger and same title, one wonders who came first with this idea, Cohen or Richard Hell), "Everybody Knows" (which predated Lou Reed''s "Strawman" by at least ten years and is essentially the same take) and the crafty and wry "Tower of Song," maybe the funniest kiss-off song written.
Of course it includes "Bird on a Wire" and "Famous Blue Raincoat," and "Hey, That''s No Way to Say Goodbye" and after all is digested, one wonders why the same level of accolades accorded to, say, Tom Waits or Randy Newman, rarely extend themselves to Mr. Cohen. Right the wrong. Get this set.
Publishing house heiress, sister to an opera superstar and one-time rock queen as Mrs. James Taylor, this ''70s chantuese''s glory days began and more or less ended in the middle of that decade. Despite an entire disc''s worth of work from the ''80s and beyond, not much that came in the wake of "Nobody Does It Better" is even memorable, let alone worthy of purchase--the early stuff is pretty eclectic in its New York psuedo-sophisticated way; the latter, over-produced dreck.
She rocks only a little on the two more propulsive tracks (as these things are measured), the lightweight remake of Charles and Inez Foxx''s "Mockingbird," and most impressively on her one truly great moment, "You''re So Vain." Stiff rhymes and an under-mixed second vocal from Mick Jagger can''t even stop this terrific bit of pissed-off ''n'' jilted, but that''s where the jollies end--the hideous string arrangement on "Haven''t Got Time For The Pain" and the nightmarishly dumb "Attitude Dancing" are enough to make one swear off cruddy confessional middle-of-the-road soft rock forever.
As much as her ex-hubby defined singer/songwriterdom in his time, so does she in the same era for female crooner--like an East Coast Linda Ronstadt (but one that co-wrote her songs as opposed to covering them), she rises and falls entirely on the tunes, and too many of these are pre-yuppie navel-gazing anthems that are the musical version of the Lifetime Channel. "You''re So Vain" is almost Stones-like, Mick or not; the rest, forget it. Haven''t got time for this pain in the least.