“Death Of A Ladies Man” by Leonard Cohen - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1977Album Chart of the Decade: 1970s

TJR says

And so it came to pass that, in 1977, the magical spell of non-stop Leonard Cohen excellence was finally broken. In a move which he would later come to regret, the 43-year-old teamed up with the bizarre Phil Spector, a guy who seemed to hold an unbreakable allure for so many songwriters; an allure which, to my mind, hadn't been truly justified since the glory days with the easily manipulatable girl groups in the early to mid-60s, touching his artistic zenith through the amazing “River Deep, Mountain High” production of '66. Cohen would later give a rather disturbing account of the collaboration:

It was one of those periods when my chops were impaired, and I wasn't in the right kind of condition to resist Phil's very strong influence on, and eventual takeover of, the record. There were lots of guns around in the studio and lots of liquor, a somewhat dangerous atmosphere. He had bodyguards who were heavily armed also. He liked guns - I liked guns too but I generally don't carry one, and it's hard to ignore a .45 lying on the console. When I was working with him alone, it was very agreeable, but the more people in the room, the wilder Phil would get. I couldn't help but admire the extravagance of his performance, but at the time couldn't really hold my own.

The story goes that, at one point, Spector pointed a loaded pistol at Cohen's throat, cocked it, and said, “I love you, Leonard.” Quietly, Cohen responded, “I hope you love me, Phil.” I'd have been outta there like a bat-outta-hell! After some time, Spector withdrew himself from Cohen, intent on mixing the work on his own, much to Cohen's horror, especially since he hadn't considered his “guide vocals” to be the final take. Seemingly, there was no reasoning with Spector. Resigned, Cohen decided to write the episode off: “I had the option of hiring my own private army and fighting it out with him on Sunset Boulevard or letting it go… I let it go… in the end the production was a catastrophe.

Whilst it may be a massive three points down in my ratings since 1974s “New Skin For The Old Ceremony”, it's not the complete write-off that some would have you believe. It's true that a whiffy scent of chamber-pop-schmaltz lingers, but this is overcome when the ingredients are mixed just so. Opener “True Love Leaves No Traces” is really quite beautiful lyrically, and the sentimental pop ballad approach is handled stylishly and melodically, with a cool bassline which probes this way and that all the while, and some lovely female backing vocals suggesting that the ladies man is not dead yet. “Nothing ever lasts forever” seems to be the message - he always pulls you back down in the end, I guess that's all part of the appeal. The rest of side one is all rather cabaret, culminating in the greatly overblown doo-wop ballad “Memories”, with Leonard belting it out as if he's Barry fucking Manilow or some such shyster.

Over on side two, two tracks reverse the preceding ratings, beginning with the opening shot, “I Left A Woman Waiting”, where Leonard's voice is to the fore, and Spector's orchestral twinkle shimmers respectfully. Right there, the formula was perfect. The song reflects upon a harsh exchange between two life-ravaged souls: “And since she spoke the truth to me, I tried to answer truthfully, Whatever happened to my eyes, Happened to your beauty.” Ooft. No mercy! The ensuing sympathy fuck typifies Leonard's love of the complex relationship labrinth. Next out of the stalls is another surefire winner, “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard On”, a song which almost seems to celebrate promiscuity as if it were an attraction at carnival. It's big, bold, brassy, funky and hilarious: “Ah but don't go home with your hard-on, It will only drive you insane, You can't shake it (or break it) with your Motown, You can't melt it down in the rain”! Again, this doesn't sound much like the death of a ladies man to me. Completing the utter madness, Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg popped up from out of nowhere to add backing vocals. I'll give Spector his due - his reinvention of the austere one was a radical one-off, not all bad, and something probably only he could have got away with. He loves Leonard, don't you know?

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [04:26] 6.8.png Leonard Cohen - True Love Leaves No Traces (Leonard Cohen, Phil Spector) Pop Ballad
A2 [05:03] 4.0.png Leonard Cohen - Iodine (Leonard Cohen, Phil Spector) Crooner / Cabaret
A3 [05:42] 4.2.png Leonard Cohen - Paper Thin Hotel (Leonard Cohen, Phil Spector) Songwriter
A4 [05:59] 4.0.png Leonard Cohen - Memories (Leonard Cohen, Phil Spector) Rock n Roll Ballad
B1 [03:28] 8.0.png Leonard Cohen - I Left A Woman Waiting (Leonard Cohen, Phil Spector) Songwriter
B2 [05:36] 7.0.png Leonard Cohen - Don’t Go Home With Your Hard On (Leonard Cohen, Phil Spector) Cerebral Pop
B3 [02:58] 5.2.png Leonard Cohen - Fingerprints (Leonard Cohen, Phil Spector) Alternative Country
B4 [09:19] 5.0.png Leonard Cohen - Death Of A Ladies Man (Leonard Cohen, Phil Spector) Songwriter

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