Leonard Cohen: Death of a Ladies Man (1977)

Co-written with and produced by Phil Spector, here is an album that begs to be listened to time and time again. There are plenty of reasons to take your time and properly listen to this album. I personally find it the most accessible and easy listening from the complete canon of Cohen’s work. With youth, lust and longing as the most recurrent themes, it gives us Leonard at his most vulnerable, or to use a word he always found delicious; naked.

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Sonically, D.O.A.L.M has a very particular identity, even more so when compared to the poet’s other efforts. Due to Spector’s heavy involvement (and I use that word deliberately here), it sounds just as one would expect it to – very 1970s, hence dated (in a good way). It is a vibrant, dark and now and then, sinister look at the world of heterosexual love and the concept of desire.

Spector’s wall-of-sound production may be a tad too distracting for those who usually enjoy Cohen’s trademark style. This time round, gone are the crisp vocals, the folk guitar licks and the poetic, pseudo prophetic thoughts effortlessly meandering in what feels like a never-ending stream of consciousness put to music by the lord of song. What we are given instead is a rough, tongue in cheek look and consciously horny point of view on the theme of love, which although never again to be approached in such a blunt manner, is a theme universally present in Cohen’s body of work.

Seemingly going through a mid-life crisis of sorts, forty three year old Leonard sounds as if for the first time in years, he is freely re-evaluating relationships through the eyes of a much younger man. Free and nonchalant in his approach, humming and screaming his way through these standard pop, do-wop numbers, this is most probably the one factor that makes this album so enjoyable.

The one thing that always nags at me when I give this record a go is always… what if Leonard Cohen wasn’t held at gunpoint while Spector ran off with those first vocal tracks, never to be heard of again until it was too late? What would the album sound like today if Cohen had a proper shot at really putting his back into those performances? What if we weren’t left with just the early guide vocals on the final mixes? Quite big what ifs!

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The best bits from Death of a Ladies’ Man

True love Leaves No Traces

“As the mist leaves no scar
On the dark green hill
So my body leaves no scar
On you and never will”

The opening song is playful, jaunty and wonderful. Having come from the collective mind of Spector and Cohen, one can’t help but attempt to lump it down with a spoonful of salt. Here is Cohen, the gentle bard of words and prayer collaborating in the gentlest love song ever written with the psychopathic and unpredictable (if genial) Spector; a man with one hand on the fader and the other on the trigger.

 

Iodine

“I needed you, I knew I was in danger
of losing what I used to think was mine
You let me love you till I was a failure,
You let me love you till I was a failure —
Your beauty on my bruise like iodine “

Characterised by gated drums and reverb-heavy, Leonard is a pessimistic looser who likens himself to this tragic, wounded character, healed only by his lover’s love and physical beauty. He seems to once again give absolute power and reverence to materialistic allure over love as a conscious act or feeling.

Paper Thin Hotel

“I stood there with my ear against the wall
I was not seized by jealousy at all
In fact a burden lifted from my soul
I learned that love was out of my control”

Sung through the mouth of a voyeuristic cuckold, or at least, that’s what it sounds like, this gentle ballad is about a man happily forgoing his role in a relationship after listening to his woman being satisfied enough without his participation through the hotel’s paper thin walls.

Memories

“So we’re dancing close, the band is playing Stardust
Balloons and paper streamers floating down on us
She says, ‘You’ve got a minute left to fall in love’
In solemn moments such as this I have put my trust
And all my faith to see
I said all my faith to see
I said all my faith to see
Her naked body”

By far the most endearing track on the whole album. Boasting spectacular do-wop vocals and a fully fledged brass band, this song sounds the least Cohen musically and perhaps the most Spector. However the lyrics are Leonard through and through. This is the man who wrote the infamous Book of Longing, here harking back to his younger days where all he wanted to do was gaze upon his lover’s naked body. That’s all he really says in this song, but he says it with such verve and paints a picture with such delicate lyrical brushstrokes that you’re instantly transported into the sweaty, dank, dark side of the gym with balloons and colourful paper streamers floating all around. Beautiful song.

I left a Woman Waiting

“I left a woman waiting
I met her sometime later
She said, I see your eyes are dead
What happened to you, lover?
What happened to you, my lover?
What happened to you, lover?
What happened to you?”

Perhaps the saddest song on the album, again emphasizing beauty and its’ loss due to time.

Don’t Go Home with your Hard-On

“I was born in a beauty salon
My father was a dresser of hair
My mother was a girl you could call on
When you called she was always there”

Perhaps a bit too vulgar for a Cohen song title, perhaps not. Any way, it fits perfectly with the spirit of the whole thing. This one takes us to the murky streets of 1970s working-class America, where Leonard is born in a beauty salon, a hairdresser’s son, working and fucking until he grows up to follow his father’s trade.

Fingerprints

“Yeah I thought I’d leave this morning
So I emptied out your drawer
A hundred thousand fingerprints
They floated to the floor
You know you hardly stopped to pick them up
You don’t care what you lose
Ah you don’t even seem to know
Whose fingerprints are whose”

A fully fledged country song reminiscent of the Spector Produced Oh Yoko some six years prior, the lyrics are again so delicate… so delicious, that they paint an intricate water-color image of words on a canvas of falling fingerprints. It makes sense once you listen to the song. Those fiddles!

Death of  a Ladies Man

“The last time that I saw him he was trying hard to get
a woman’s education but he’s not a woman yet
And the last time that I saw her she was living with some boy
who gives her soul an empty room and gives her body joy.”

The almost ten-minute closer is epic although quite difficult to really listen to. It may be the least memorable while the most ambiguous. Just like the Beatles’ Revolution Number 9, It feels like they just left it there to make you realise what a feat it is to sit through the entirety of this album which really can never satisfy you in the same way the artist’s previous work can.

In his own words – it’s like a voyage to the moon or to that other star, I guess you’d go for nothing if you really wanna go that far.

You can listen to the whole thing here! –  Death of a Ladies Man

 

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