Old and new albums of the month: January 2017

I’m starting a new feature in which I share mini-reviews of the albums I heard during the month.

Oczy Mlody by The Flaming Lips (2017)
I’ve listened to the majority of their LPs and this is among The Flaming Lips’ least memorable. Wants to be atmospheric, but too many dull moments. The vocal is uninspired and the only zeal I noticed was on the track The Castle. The first half of the album is weak. The opening two songs are too similar. Sunrise is ok yet sounds like rehash. One Night While Hunting surprised me and is when the album finally kicks into gear. The second half of the album is stronger for production choices and atmosphere and lifts my rating up to a five.

2013 by Meilyr Jones (2016)
Thanks to The Swede for the recommendation. Jones is a Welsh singer, and formerly of the band Race Horses. 2013 is his award winning debut album, which is in the vein of Neil Hannon’s chamber pop.
Especially impressed by Passionate Friend, Strange Emotional, and Olivia. Some of the other material on this left me cold. The orchestral arrangements are well done. The melody on opener How to Recognise a Work of Art was too similar to Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.

This Girl’s in Love (A Bacharach & David Songbook) by Rumer (2016)
A likeable retro listen, her voice is easy on the ear. Not all of these songs justify the remake treatment, because sometimes they are too close to the originals. Other times, they add a new interpretation.

Future Snowbird Charlotte Cornfield (2016)
Alt-Country. A talented, underrated lyricist. Aslan and Mercury are the stand outs.

Sailin’ Shoes by Little Feat (1972)
Southern Rock. Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant named Little Feat as one of their favorite bands. The album has a couple of strong moments, especially Easy to Slip and Tripe Face Boogie. But I can’t help feeling there’s some Rolling Stones imitation. I wouldn’t describe this sophomore album as a classic, but it certainly is better written and with more energy than their dull debut.

Little Feat by Little Feat (1970)

Songs From a Room by Leonard Cohen (1969)
Cohen’s second album continues the template of his classic 1967 debut. Melancholy lyrics and acoustic guitar. The instrumentation is a bit more varied and produced, with Cohen’s words still as the driving force. The poetic lyrics have a mystery about them and have aged remarkably well. His vocal as a young man is very different to his vocal as an old man. Stand outs include Bird on the Wire, The Partisan, & Seems so long ago Nancy.

Songs of Love and Hate by Leonard Cohen (1971)
Cohen’s best album of the 1970s. A timeless desert island disc, which can reveal new truths in all stages of your adult life. The poetic and meaningful lyrics, the varied melodies, the emotional weight, an almost perfect album. It may be too dark and melancholy for some, but for those who are willing to go to those places it’s rewarding.

New Skin for the Old Ceremony by Leonard Cohen (1974)
Is This What You Wanted and Lover Lover Lover venture into pop, I had mixed feelings about the repetitiveness of those songs. As with his song Diamonds in The Mine from Songs of Love and Hate (1971), he’s experimenting with a louder vocal which is admirable but ultimately I wasn’t a fan of. I connected less with New Skin for the Old Ceremony than his previous three albums. Stand out is Who by Fire. An album I need to listen to a few more times so the rating is tentative.

Death of a Ladies’ Man by Leonard Cohen (1977)
Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ production is too domineering and drowns out Leonard Cohen’s vocal and words.
Cohen has since said “My reputation as a ladies’ man was a joke that caused me to laugh bitterly through the ten thousand nights I spent alone”

Recent Songs by Leonard Cohen (1979)
A pleasant listen and quite a romantic album. The melodies are not especially memorable and there are no signature hits, so I wouldn’t call Recent Songs Cohen’s best. But I like the lyrics, instrumentation and slowness. The album is different to his previous and might be a grower.
On the track The Lost Canadian (Un Canadien Errant) he surprisingly sings in French. The middle section of the record (The Traitor, Our Lady of Solitude) is especially beautiful.

Various Positions by Leonard Cohen (1984)
You can tell there’s an attempt to make the album have a stronger commercial appeal than his 1979 album. The 1980s was the decade of the big chorus and on Various Positions Leonard Cohen gives us some of his most memorable. Hallelujah is haunting but overrated. My favorites are Dance Me to the End of Love & The Law. Hunter’s Lullaby sounds like a track that could have been on Recent Songs. The closer If It Be Your Will is another of his signature tunes, although to me the cover done by Antony is more powerful.

I’m Your Man by Leonard Cohen (1988)

The Future by Leonard Cohen (1992)

Ten New Songs by Leonard Cohen (2001)
Starts out well. In My Secret Life and A Thousand Kisses Deep are two of my favorite Cohen songs of his post 2000s material. I love the lyric “then you slip into the masterpiece”
Unfortunately the album can’t sustain that early promise, the rest is bland, minor Cohen. His weakest since 1977’s Death of a Ladies’ Man.

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

10 thoughts on “Old and new albums of the month: January 2017

  1. This is a good idea – one I may well pinch! Are you continuing on with Cohen's albums? I think the last three are among his finest.
    It's interesting to read your thoughts on 'How to Recognise a Work of Art'. I've never noticed a Elton connection, I always had the tune pegged as more of a Motown/Northern Soul homage.


  2. @The Swede: Feel free to steal the idea! I do plan to re-listen to Leonard Cohen’s newer stuff as well this year, to see the evolution of his career.
    You may be right about those homages, I’m not sure. It’s the opening guitar riff in the Elton John song which to me is similar.


  3. I'm giving the Flaming Lips album a little more time, though so far only one track has really interested me (not sure what it's called but it's the one that sounds like it has James Earl Jones on it).

    I know I'm in the minority, but I really like Death Of A Ladies Man.


  4. The Flaming Lips in recent years have lost it for me. It's not that they've become quite full of themselves but the collaborations with Smiley Virus have showcased the worst aspects of the band. There's people that I know who have been Lips fans since the 1980s felt the band has lost their way.

    I haven't had a chance to listen to Leonard Cohen's entire catalog but I hope to soon but I really either need a new laptop or find something to fix my sound in my current laptop (which does work fine).


  5. @Rol: Oczy Mlody is definitely patchy, I like the surprise whistle at the end of One Night. Sounds like James Earl Jones voice? Hmm don’t know.
    Death of A Ladies Man is well produced but to me lacking Leonard’s personality.


  6. @thevoid99: For me, The Flaming Lips peaked 1999-2002, although I do quite like the second half of their latest album.

    Leonard Cohen is a favorite of mine, his discography is varied and worth exploring.


  7. @Wendell: Glad you like the 'Albums of The Month' idea, which hopefully can encourage me to listen to some classic albums.

    I just posted my favorite older albums of 2016


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