Songs of Love and Hate | Leonard Cohen | 1971 | Columbia | #366
I promptly realised how difficult (yet worthwhile) this is going to be as soon as I started. Not so much the listening to an album a day part – that’s easy – but rather finding time every day to collect my thoughts on it and write something coherent. I have zero experience with turning my thoughts into words (apart from my tedious rants on social media that I occasionally subject people to), and so it takes me forever. On the plus side I already feel good about having listened to one album today that I probably would never have otherwise picked up. And really that’s exactly the point in this challenge, this wordy bit is just ancillary – a check to make sure I’m actually doing it.
There’s a massive temptation to look up what other people have already written about this album in an attempt to gather ideas. Because that’s what people do now. There’s no need to form your own opinion about anything anymore because someone on the internet has already got a better one than you anyway, so just use theirs. They even have websites now where you can sort peoples’ opinions on certain topics by most popular, so you can quickly aggregate the general consensus and adjust your core beliefs accordingly.
There is a more likely argument-from-authority trap that I must avoid throughout the year though – an appeal to expert opinion – in that I’m writing about albums that appear on a ‘Top Albums of All Time’ list; someone who is a lot better at this than I, who actually gets paid to do exactly this, has already decided that this is one of the best albums of all time. It must be good, the NME bloke said so.
But it’s not good though. I spent the majority of ‘Songs of Love and Hate’ thinking that soon Leonard Cohen is going to hit that sweet spot of song writing which triggers that melancholy high you get when something is so poetically dismal it actually feels good, like a Steinbeck novel. It never quite gets there though, and so in the end you’re just left with a collection of depressive songs which all go on for slightly too long. Rather than giving me something I can relate my own feelings of love and hate to, I ended up just feeling sorry for Leonard and sort of pitying him.
The album is mostly acoustic guitar based songs with an occasional string section which works really well in the first track “Avalanche”, and actually gives me a lot of hope for his other album that appears 134 places above this one in NME’s list. I kind of dig his style in “Diamonds in the Mine” where he end ends up shouting the lyrics like a mad man; “And there are no chocolates in the boxes anymore And there are no diamonds in the mine” – apparently alluding to how empty his life is. But really it’s just a welcome break from the dreary, baritone, monochordic monotony which the remainder of the album continues with. It is a bit of an ordeal, really.