Friday

Leonard Cohen

Death of a Ladies' Man - 1977

Toward the end of the 1970s, the careers of Leonard Cohen and Phil Spector were headed in opposite trajectories. Cohen rode high on a five album creative streak that had begun with his debut LP nine years previous, and Spector was spiraling down a well of drink, drugs, bizarre behavior and a string of albums that, while brilliant, were so polarizing that labels often had to be sweet talked into putting them out. Naturally, their great summit of 1977 was one that continues to divide, challenge and amaze. But as Spector put it, midway through their three-week songwriting binge that resulted in 15 new tracks, there's no denying that this is some "great fucking music." Discussing Cohen's contribution here is almost pointless, since the man's ability to craft a lyric and turn a phrase is sickeningly consistent - and aside from Spector's obvious influence on stripping a few layers of subtlety here and there and adding a touch of tasteful schmaltz to the choruses, Death of a Ladies' Man only continues the hot streak. It shouldn't be a surprise then, that the real magic of this record lies in Spector's typically over the top production. If his records of the classic era were Wall of Sound, the noise he creates here pours in through tunnels and waves, with his wrecking crew of the mid 60s reprising their role with some added syrupy 70s grandeur and a layer of echo so thick that it practically becomes an instrument in itself. It's worth noting that Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg drop by to lend their voices to the raucous "Don't Go Home With Your Hard-On" - a raveup that nearly disrupts the flow, but as a testament to the strength of this record, hardly creates a ripple. Unquestionably weird, but bruised and lovely all the same, this LP must be heard to be believed.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey JR
Never heard this one when it came out -- but I did hear about the controversy around it. Interested to give it a listen...
cheers
Taro Nombei

Anonymous said...

Yet again, JR Heatwarp with the most impeccable taste. Thanks for everything! -Kid Shaleen.

Festus Von Gunsmoke said...

Every time I read another update about Spector's trials, I remember Cohen talking about recording this album:

"I was flipped out at the time, and he certainly was flipped out. For me, the expression was withdrawal and melancholy, and for him, megalomania and insanity and a devotion to armaments that was really intolerable. In the state that he found himself, which was post-Wagnerian, I would say Hitlerian, the atmosphere was one of guns - the music was a subsidiary enterprise ... At a certain point Phil approached me with a bottle of kosher red wine in one hand and a .45 in the other, put his arm around my shoulder and shoved the revolver into my neck and said, 'Leonard, I love you.' I said, 'I hope you do, Phil.'"

Gee, you think they'll call Leonard to the stand as a character witness at the retrial?

F.B. Fenby said...

Despite being an earnest Leonard Cohen fan for years, I somehow overlooked this album until downloading it a couple days ago. Wouldn't you know it's amazing. You still get the deep lyrical insight, yet with an effective, polished and restrained (for Spector) sound (not that I need anything more than how Songs of . . . sounds). Anyway, thanks for putting an end to my stubborn avoidance of this album. Same goes for Red Rose Speedway.

JR HeatWarp said...

Glad to see this one has been dusted off for the visitors who passed it over the first time around. Hopefully you've all dug it as much as I have.

Festus- I've never really heard Cohen's take on this one before, so thanks for sharing some insight on that. It sounds like Spector was up to his old tricks during these sessions, but Cohen seems to have no problem giving more details than most musicians with whom Spector's recorded. I sure love this line: 'Leonard, I love you.' I said, 'I hope you do, Phil.'" Classic!

bruised said...

I appreciate your saying the cd sound is thin. I knew the vinyl and it had a strange echoing quality, like a 1950's dance hall acoustic. If they did not capture the slight warmth givien by the vinyl, then it must sound clinical, and I might give it a miss, thanks.

But if you haven't heard it yet, folks and you are Cohen fan, do give it a spin. The line 'your naked body' always makes me laugh. The rest is weird but somehow fitting the Cohen aesthetic I would say, an extreme he needed to go to, if only to know his limits. And it is one of the most stylistically unified projects Cohen did, rather than the usual assortment of varied songs.

peskypesky said...

I'm excited to hear this. Didn't realize Cohen had worked with Spector.