Leonard Cohen was a one of a kind poet and novelist, an artist who eventually made the greatest decision of his life when released his debut album in 1967 at the grand old age of 33. From then on, the singer-songwriter released a further 14 studio albums and eight live albums during the course of a recording career lasting almost 50 years whilst always remaining an active poet throughout this period.
Out of Cohen’s almost faultless back catalogue of music, you could line up a row of people who all have a different favourite record from the course of his career. He is often viewed by many as being the ultimate artist and his talent literally knew no bounds, his lyricism is a gift from the Gods and one that he crafted while living out in the Greek island of Hydra. The island was an artists utopia, a location that attracted some of the world’s most fascinating creative minds and helped mature the likes of Leonard Cohen and Julie Felix into the artists that they would go on to become.
In 2001, the Canadian musician spoke with Mojo’s Sylvie Simmons around the release of his Ten New Songs record and Cohen revealed that nothing he will release will ever top his 1979 record Recent Songs. The record was his sixth studio album, one that he self-produced along with Henry Lewy. Recent Songs marked a return to Cohen’s acoustic folk music after the Phil Spector’s experimentation of Death of a Ladies’ Man but added along with a tinge of jazz influences that added a whole new element to his work.
“I think I like Recent Songs the best,” Cohen noted. “The producer was Henry Levy – I was studying with Roshi at the time in Los Angeles and it was appropriate that I worked with a Los Angeles producer. Joni Mitchell introduced me to him. He had produced several of her early records. He had that great quality that Bob Johnston had: he had a lot of faith in the singer and he just let it happen,” the mercurial artist then noted.
“He introduced me to the group Passenger, things had changed these were my own songs and the musical ideas were specifically mine. I’d always wanted to combine those Middle Eastern or Eastern European sounds with the rhythmic possibilities of a jazz or rock ‘n’ roll rhythm section,” Cohen then disclosed.
Cohen came into making Recent Songs for the first time with his career with a point to prove following some less than favourable reviews of Death Of A Ladies’ Man, even though the record is deemed as a classic now it was remarkably viewed as a misstep at the time. Rolling Stone headlined its review as “Leonard Cohen’s doo-wop Nightmare” and claimed that, “Too much of the record sounds like the world’s most flamboyant extrovert producing and arranging the world’s most fatalist introvert.”
However, Rolling Stone’s review could not have been anymore starkly different for Recent Songs, which writer Debra Rae Cohen gushed, “There’s not a cut on Recent Songs without something to offer…and at least four or five tunes are full-fledged masterpieces. I wish I had a tape loop of ‘The Guests,’ which features a hold-your-breath, haunting melody.”
It’s incredible to think that at one point in time that Leonard Cohen’s genius was questioned after Death Of A Ladies’ Man wasn’t received positively but Recent Songs was more than just a record of flawless songs. It confirmed that he was an artist truly like no other and people were wrong for every writing him off for even a millisecond.