I've been remiss in my music review duties lately, partly due to being busy and partly due to a lack of inspiration. In truth, this album is pretty dreary and it took some time for me to come up with something to say about it.
As the cover indicates, Songs of Love and Hate is a bleak, monochromatic collection of songs tackling such cheery subjects of death, suicide, and more death. Comparisons with other singer-songwriters are inevitable. Cohen is more somber than Bob Dylan, less personable than Johnny Cash, and more authentic than Tom Waits. His earnest and painful writing in tinged with an icy frost of alienation.
Even in the relatively uptempo number, There Are No Diamonds in the Mine, when backed by gospel singers and a twangy country lead guitar, Cohen comes across as desperately unhappy. I suppose that's part of his appeal. Where Dylan cuts his bitterness with jokes, Cohen maintains steadfastly committed to his grim outlook on life.
Apocalypse always feels just around the corner, with Cohen serving as a prophet resigned to the fate of the world, an aura that is helped by larger than life topics such as Joan of Arc and the suicidal ruminations of Dress Rehearsal Rag,
One of the surprising things about the record is Cohen's intricate style of guitar playing, over which his world weary voice drones and groans. Particularly evident in the album's opener, Avalanche, his style is a blend of classical guitar techniques and folky fingerstyle that's terribly effective in what is otherwise a very stripped down form of music.
I have to be in a pretty gloomy mood to enjoy this sort of music, but when I am, it really hits the spot. There's definitely something to be said for wallowing in all of humanity's most negative emotions at once. It can be cathartic and therapeutic, and after all, isn't that what music is all about?