My favorite 100 albums of all time: #56 ("I'm Your Man")
There are two kinds of people: Those who appreciate Leonard Cohen, and those who are wrong. I present as evidence Cohen's eighth studio album, I'm Your Man.
Released in 1988 with heavy use of synthesizers and drum machines/electronic drums, I'm Your Man should sound dated. Indeed, if you focus on the backing tracks for the songs on this album, you'll notice the distinctive sound of cutting-edge mid-80s technology. But it's the songs, the lyrics, and the voices that propel I'm Your Man – and Cohen's voice, the lyrics, and his backing chorus are timeless.
Cohen doesn't sing so much as growl the lyrics on I'm Your Man, but his gravel-laden voice is complemented nicely by Jennifer Warnes and other backing singers.
"First We Take Manhattan" opens the album with a jaundiced take on Cohen's musical career, or perhaps a terrorist plotting some kind of attack. It's a foreshadowing of even darker material coming on Cohen's The Future, but in step with the Reagan era. Cohen's talking blues delivery is laid over the synth and drum tracks, and Warnes' vocals slid a bit deeper into the mix.
And then there's "Everybody Knows," which features Cohen at his most cynical. "Everybody knows the dice are loaded… the fight was fixed, the poor stay poor, the rich get rich. That's how it goes. And everybody knows."
This one is almost impossible to avoid, but why would you want to? Cohen's delivery is majestic, the pace is glacial, and every second of the song is just pure enjoyment.
I also love the quirky, oddly timed "Jazz Police." The haunting, lovely chorus contrasts with frenetic delivery of the main verses by Cohen and angular and punchy synth backing. The piano and bass breakdown really makes this one.
And then there's the closing cut, Cohen's signature "Tower of Song."
"I was born like this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift of the golden voice" sings Cohen, and it's true. Here, Cohen is at the height of his powers, his delivery packs a punch but sounds almost effortless. His backing band adding just the right accents, the backing singers singing sweetly and quietly.
Sadly, I've not gotten to see Cohen live – and with a major tour just behind him, and Cohen in his early 80s, the odds are slim that I'll have the opportunity. But he has a new album coming out in the fall (You Want it Darker), so I'm pleased that there's still new music in the Tower of Song yet to be heard.