Death of a Ladies’ Man is the most problematic Leonard Cohen album in that is should be fantastic. It’s a superhero team up of the possibly murderous Phil Spector and the incomparable man himself Leonard Cohen. The album is pretty much a wild debacle, though, and for the longest time I couldn’t put my finger on why. It’s the most troubling of modern paradox. You listen and it is like milimetres, nay nanometres! from being a Genghis Khan-like triumph and somehow that makes it a Nero-like misadventure.  This is my attempt to cut the Gordian Knot and maybe tear a famous blue raincoat or two.

I was driving through Oakland on highway 880 after work with L.C. grumbling away on the stereo as he so often does. Trucks are whizzing by, the sunshine is beating down on the bay to my right, and evidently a ladies’ man is dying in the circuits of my car. Then it hits me. The problem with Death of a Ladies’ Man is that it makes Leonard Cohen vulnerable.

Usually he speaks from a place of such authority even when he is wistful (So Long, Marianne) or pleading (Lady Midnight). His emotions are sorted, if painful, and he tells us how it is. This Leonard Cohen, however, is asking. On memories for example he sings from the perspective of a desperate teenager who, for all his false bravado, puts him in thrall of “the tallest and the blondest girl”

I think much of this reversal has origin in Phil Spector’s production choices. The wall of sound technique smooths out the gravitas from Leonard’s voice. The girl-groupesque instrumentals (eg long and plaintive saxophone solos, crescendoing brass) create a sense of trying too hard (Paper Thin Hotel and Iodine especially). Cohen’s poetry is best served by a minimal fuss that frame the narrative rather than coloring it. Even later albums with their synthesizers and smooth jazz function as a sort of afterthought, a house of cards that pedestals a golden trophy. Spector’s bombast is simply out of sync with the understated and powerful aesthetic we love from Leonard Cohen.

There some great moments. True Love Leaves No Traces is more restrained and sentimental in a compelling way. Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-on is charmingly weird and makes you want to be just as erotically confused. Memories will make you go “wtf? this is totally awesome— I think?”

And that’s the way I see it, at least.

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