Leonard Cohen – The Future

Today we are going to talk about Leonard Cohen’s The Future:

Doesn't look much like murder, does it?The follow-up to I’m Your Man, which displayed Cohen’s complete transformation from Spanish guitar-plucking folk singer to gruff voiced jazz/lounge-flavored synthesizer-heavy folk singer, The Future is one of Cohen’s most famous albums, apparently due to its heavy use in film soundtracks in the 90’s. I don’t know myself, I didn’t watch any of the films containing his music. I will say that this album contains his gruffest vocals, some of his most interesting instrumentation, and some of his most brilliant lyrics.

The album starts with the title track, which has him singing from the perspective of a derelict insane person, or else just a despot wishing for the old times. As with most of Leonard’s songs, the images are there, colorful and deep-rooted within the lines of the verses and chorus (not a word wasted), but the whole picture isn’t so clear. In particular, I love the chorus, spoken like a true reprobate:

When they said (they said)
Repent! (repent), Repent! (repent)
I wonder what they meant?

This would also be the only Leonard Cohen song to contain the words “Anal sex” and that should perhaps be noted (changed to “careless sex” in recent concerts, however). The instrumentation in this song is great too, bluesy and jazzy, particular around the chorus lines. One of my favorite Cohen tracks of the past 20 years, for sure.

The second track, which due to a strange downloading situation, I have only just heard today because somehow I missed it when I first got this album, is “Waiting For The Miracle”. This song contains some of that strange instrumentation, as it is a minor blues chord progression, but the instruments are mainly centered around an odd-sounding yet pleasant synth, and a mandolin. There are a lot of strings in this song, in fact it kind of reminds me of a late-era Warren Zevon song in that respect. The lyrics are mainly centered around the theme of the song’s title, mainly Cohen speaking to his lover, and the ideas are so dense that it’s hard to focus on what’s really going on in this song. This is my only real problem with listening to Leonard Cohen, I kind of wish I were smarter so I could understand this stuff better. I’m not much better with his poetry, just to let you know.

“Be For Real” is a very Gospel-sounding number where Cohen is singing, as usual, to a woman in that super-bass voice of his, only this time in more of a deep R&B tune. While I am not a fan of modern R&B by any means, this song is still good in its own right. The lyrics are not at all as deep as something Cohen would normally write, and that’s because he didn’t write this song (!!!!)

That’s right, Leonard Cohen sings a song he didn’t write. I am not sure if it’s a cover or if Frederick Knight wrote the song for Leonard, but the scandal remains. It might explain why this is my least favorite track on the album, but the fact that I also kind of love this song stands as a testament not only to the song’s quality, but to that of the whole album. Err, yes.

Next we have “Closing Time”, the only good song to have ever been written with that title (anyone aware of music made within the past 20 years will know who I’m knocking here). This song features bendy notes from a synthesizer, and bass from Bob Glaub, Warren Zevon’s old bassist! There is some very nice violin work going on here to kind of dispel the ill feelings one might get from the synthesizer, but I happen to like both. This song has a ton of lyrics, and they’re mostly really positive, which is kind of unusual in its own way:

Ah we’re drinking and we’re dancing
And the band is really happening
And the Johnny Walker wisdom running high

And my very sweet companion
She’s the Angel of Compassion
She’s rubbing half the world against her thigh

And every drinker every dancer
Lifts a happy face to thank her
The fiddler fiddles something so sublime

All the women tear their blouses off
And the men they dance on the polka-dots
And it’s partner found, it’s partner lost
And it’s hell to pay when the fiddler stops

It’s closing time

Seriously, that’s just the first verse, most songs could make an entire song out of just that. That must be why Leonard only puts out an album twice in any given decade.

“Anthem” is one of the most beautiful songs Cohen has ever written. It’s a song about a longing for freedom and hope, and it’s tirelessly optimistic for being such a slow song. He did this song live whenever he came to Austin, and even reciting the chorus spoken-word moved me in a way I’ll never forget, and the song is just as profound, containing some impossibly low notes as Cohen sings these perfect lines:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

After all this, however, one may be feeling in the mood for something a little more upbeat, so then we get the synthesizer and cadence-built legend of a song, “Democracy”. The song is about America, and has a positive message hidden among its lines of slight derision. Of course, as Cohen himself put it, “I love the country, but I hate the scene”. Trust a Canadian poet to write the best song about the United States in the 90’s. I really love this song, but that’s kind of a given by this time, I’m sure.

“Light As The Breeze” is kind of a strange one, it has this unusual beat and bass-line that is very hard to count to. This is again one of those songs where Cohen is singing to a woman that will be very soon sleeping with him. Seriously there is no ladies’ man like Leonard Cohen. The reason why half of the songs on this album contain some kind of naked woman is probably more fact than fiction. I just imagine that any woman that talks to Leonard Cohen is on about a 10 minute countdown to nudity.

“Always” is a bluesy, loungey song driven by a piano for about 8 minutes. The song is a very plain instruction for lovers on what to say, with a cheeky spoken intro and spoken segments throughout as he teaches lovers to say the following:

Days may not be fair, always
Yeah but that’s when I’ll be there, always
Not for just an hour
Not for just a day
Not for just a year, but always

The song is a little down-to-earth for a Cohen song, but I am not complaining. It’s a cool song, and 8 minutes have been wasted in much less awesome ways.

Finally, we have “Tacoma Trailer”, which features another rarity for Leonard Cohen’s music: it has no words. That’s right, one of two instrumentals in Cohen’s entire catalogue. It’s an excellent and very bass-heavy string and piano arrangement. Judging from the simplicity of the piano melody, I am led to believe that Cohen is probably playing the piano himself. Either way, it’s a strange 6 minute thing to listen to, but that’s The Future for you.

I am kind of saddened by the fact that I am running out of Leonard Cohen albums to talk about, but rest assured, I will try and do all of them by the year’s end. Until then, it’s been a pleasure listening to The Future again, and we will see you here tomorrow!


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