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by Justin Farrar

February 1, 2012

Artist Spotlight: Leonard Cohen Through the Years

by Justin Farrar  |  February 1, 2012

The early reviews are in, and just about every media outlet of note, from The New York Times to NPR, is gushing over Leonard Cohen's latest release, Old Ideas. We here at Rhapsody are smitten, too. So much, in fact, we decided to dedicate this week's Artist Spotlight to the man himself. Whether you belong to the uninitiated or you're a veteran fanatic, there's plenty to explore.

Leonard Cohen is arguably the most unique of the first wave of singer-songwriters who emerged from the 1960s. A brooding poet from Montreal, he wasn't a true folkie like James Taylor, Jackson Browne, or even fellow Canadians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Moreover, he didn't fall in love with the redwoods of California and all those groovy canyons in Los Angeles. Or, if he did, that love never dominated his music.

No, Cohen's inner reality -- steeped as it is in classic existentialism, Romanticism and Zen philosophy -- has always been too swayed by violent passion and an uneasy sense of melancholy to ever entertain the wispy, sensitive ruminations that characterized the Denim Mafia. In a weird way, his ability to explore the psychological dimensions of despair and torment (especially highlighting that point at which love, lust, obsession and alienation dissolve into one another) has more in common with such country-based songwriters as Lee Hazlewood, Mickey Newbury and Jay Bolotin, brooding crooners who shared that aching sense of impending doom.

For all his accolades as a songwriter and poet, Cohen's overall sound has proven to be just as influential. Let's face it: a lot of us don't even know what the guy is singing about half the time. He's just too damn smart. But what we do know is that he sounds grim, dark and intense. He's a master of atmosphere and mood -- monochromatic, obsidian and ghost-like. Through the years, these qualities have inspired hordes of goths, arty rockers such as Nick Cave and PJ Harvey, and even the occasional metal-dude auteur. Because of this, Cohen is one of those rare artists whose work actually bridges the hippie/punk divide. Here's a guide to the highlights of his catalog.

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