One of the albums on my wish list for last Christmas was Leonard Cohen’s Live in Dublin. It wasn’t in my stocking then but I did get a generous helping of iTunes vouchers for my birthday at the end of January so I bought it as a download.
It’s a live album recorded in September 2013 when Leonard was 79 and coming to the end of a world tour. I don’t usually like live albums – the sound is often poor and the audience noise detracts from the music – but this one is an exception. It manages to capture the atmosphere of a live performance without sacrificing sound quality or letting background noise become intrusive. And the whole band puts in a superb performance. From Leonard’s deep gravelly voice, to the guitars, keyboards and violin, the bass, drums and backing vocals, each musician is outstanding. This is a studio quality production with a live performance feel.
Leonard Cohen’s songs are poems set to music; each one has something to say about love, passion, religion or politics. I find his words far more evocative than any of the well-known poets that our English teachers used to enthuse about. His words have a bite and a wit that is, sometimes, astonishing. Democracy, for example, starts with a reference to Tiananmen Square. It doesn’t mention the massacre of the protesters but it seems to say that things will be all right in the end because democracy is coming. Then it turns the world upside down by saying
Democracy is coming…
… to the U.S.A.
The voice of reason in my head says, “That’s ridiculous! The U.S. is already a democracy.” And then the irony detector goes off and reminds me that, perhaps, the U.S. isn’t really the perfect embodiment of the democratic process that Americans like to think it is.
Live in Dublin is roughly three hours of music (3 CDs) and is good value at £14.99 for the download. It contains some of Leonard’s classic songs of the ’60s (Suzanne, So Long Marianne, Bird on a Wire) as well as material from the four decades since. Some of the early songs feel a little stale to me – perhaps that’s understandable, if you’ve been singing the same song for more than 40 years it must be difficult to keep it sounding fresh. Or I may be listening through rose-tinted spectacles (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor). Either way, I’m offering Live in Dublin as my album of the month for February 2015.
Incidentally, if you buy it you’ll find that democracy isn’t coming yet; that’s one song that’s not on the album.