“New Skin For The Old Ceremony” by Leonard Cohen - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1974Album Chart of the Decade: 1970s

TJR says

Arriving in August ’74 was the 4th album from the 39-year-old, a set which continues his impeccable 7-year-run of sheer brilliance. The songs may not come fast and furious to Leonard, but when they come, boy oh boy, it’s a treat to hear. Speaking to Melody Maker early in ’75 Cohen said:

“For a while, I didn't think there was going to be another album. I pretty well felt that I was washed up as a songwriter because it wasn't coming anymore. Actually, I should have known better, it takes me a long time to compose a song… However, last summer I went to Ethiopia looking for a suntan. It rained, including in the Sinai desert, but through this whole period I had my little guitar with me, and it was then I felt the songs emerging – at least, the conclusions that I had been carrying in manuscript form for the last four or five years, from hotel room to hotel room… I must say I'm pleased with the album. It's good. I'm not ashamed of it and am ready to stand by it. Rather than think of it as a masterpiece, I prefer to look at it as a little gem.”

Relationship jive is still top of the agenda; the final chapters always seem a foregone conclusion for our romantic tragedian, but there’s much fun in the adventure, and all hope is never lost. The set benefits from the subtle and classy production of John Lissauer – he himself plays woodwinds, keyboards and provides back-up vocals, as well as overseeing the arrangements of the violas, mandolins, banjos, guitars and a big bendy double bass, seemingly all the rage since Herbie Flowers rocked “Walk on the Wild Side”. “Chelsea Hotel #2” is an early album WOW, a beautifully picked little gem which boldly shares an intimate encounter between two musical stars: “Giving me head on the unmade bed while the limousines waits in the street… you told me again you preferred handsome men but for me you’d make an exception… never mind, we are ugly but we have the music.” Seamlessly, “Lover Lover Lover” continues to explore related themes; seeking re-incarnation, the singer proclaims: “I want a face that's fair this time, I want a spirit that is calm.” Musically, it’s the most upbeat song on the album, and ends hopefully with great lines: “And may the spirit of this song, may it rise up pure and free, May it be a shield for you, a shield against the enemy.”

Opening up side 2 with a Lover-Lover-Lover-esque strum is “There Is A War”, another classic for the Cohen catalogue: “There is a war between the rich and poor, a war between the man and the woman. There is a war between the left and right, a war between the black and white.” Don’t be a gawping tourist is the message. “A Singer Must Die” is yet another stunner – a low-key low-register number reflecting that being lied to is like “a knee in the balls or a fist in the face”, whether the perpetrator be a lover or a politician; but that all liars must face the truth at some stage. The album ascends to the pinnacle of perfection with “Who By Fire”, a song which Leonard based on a Hebrew prayer which affected him from as early as he can remember; the prayer lists all the ways in which we eventually must come to stand before the creator: who by fire, who by water etc. You don’t have to believe a word of it to feel the beauty. “New Skin for the Old Ceremony” is another typically heavy-duty experience – but the depth in quality is such that it’s always a pleasure, never a chore.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [04:13] 7.8.png Leonard Cohen - Is This What You Wanted (Leonard Cohen) Songwriter
A2 [03:06] 9.5.png Leonard Cohen - Chelsea Hotel #2 (Leonard Cohen) Folk
A3 [03:19] 9.7.png Leonard Cohen - Lover Lover Lover (Leonard Cohen) Folk Rock / Americana
A4 [03:59] 7.6.png Leonard Cohen - Field Commander Cohen (Leonard Cohen) Songwriter
A5 [03:50] 7.2.png Leonard Cohen - Why Don’t You Try (Leonard Cohen) Crooner / Cabaret
B1 [02:59] 9.1.png Leonard Cohen - There Is A War (Leonard Cohen) Folk
B2 [03:17] 9.6.png Leonard Cohen - A Singer Must Die (Leonard Cohen) Songwriter
B3 [02:40] 6.9.png Leonard Cohen - I Tried To Leave You (Leonard Cohen) Crooner / Cabaret
B4 [02:33] 10.0.png Leonard Cohen - Who By Fire (Leonard Cohen) Folk
B5 [04:06] 8.9.png Leonard Cohen - Take This Longing (Leonard Cohen) Folk
B6 [02:38] 6.7.png Leonard Cohen - Leaving Green Sleeves (Traditional, Leonard Cohen) Folk

© The Jukebox Rebel 2005-2020 All Rights Reserved