ALBUM (1988)

Rewind album: I'm Your Man, by Leonard Cohen

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 April, 2013, 5:00pm

I'm Your Man

Leonard Cohen


Leonard Cohen, a bashful septuagenarian singer-songwriter from Montreal, is the kind of man that many men want to be, and many women want to be with. One of the most influential figures of his generation, both as a musician and an individual - and still going strong after a 40-year career - he became a household name at the relatively august age of 33 with the release of Songs of Leonard Cohen.

But becoming a musician wasn't Cohen's primary goal, having embarked on his creative journey as a writer of prose and poetry. Before his debut album came out, Cohen had released a collection of poems entitled Flowers for Hitler in 1964, and novels The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966).

Many attribute this innate ability to manipulate words and sounds to his unique singing style. His down-at-heel tales of love and misery combined with that gravelly voice and measured sense of rhythm lend his music a beauty and melancholy.

Over the years he has been called everything from "the Bard of the Bedsit" to "the Godfather of Gloom" as he has always expressed his fears and concerns, and spoken openly about his battle with depression. And having continued to perform and release material at a steady rate since the mid-1960s, the only significant break he took from the music industry was to pursue his spiritual leanings in the 1990s - a much-needed time for reflection after a lifetime of heavy drugs and even heavier thoughts.

As for Cohen's musical style, the early stages of his career sat neatly within the structured confines of folk (just listen to Suzanne, Sisters of Mercy, Bird on the Wire), and so when his eighth studio album I'm Your Man was released in 1988, it came as a shock to many. Out went the sparseness of his earlier material, and in came a bigger sound replete with synthesisers, drum machines and samples. And while fans were used to his misery-laden messages, the somewhat apocalyptic themes he addressed on the LP also announced a slight shift in approach - albeit with a stronger sense of irony and humour.

Opening track First We Take Manhattan has shades of New Order combined with Vangelis and Pet Shop Boys - it's synthpop meets deep folk. For traditionalists, it was difficult to accept, and still takes some getting used to, but the sign of a great artist is one who is willing to break out of their comfort zone. The stand-out tracks are Everybody Knows, Take This Waltz and Tower of Song - all three being as close as you get to what might be called Cohenesque. And this is how Cohen became our man: supremely talented without being untouchable, unconventionally handsome, and refreshingly candid about his personal frailties without ever appearing overly self-absorbed.

Oliver Clasper