Picks and Pans Review: I'm Your Man

updated 04/18/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/18/1988 01:00AM

Leonard Cohen

Terrific songs. Nice production. Talented musicians. There's nothing wrong with this album that a little less singing couldn't cure. No singing at all would be perfect. Cohen, North America's answer to Kurt Weill, has written some of the most interesting popular songs of the last 20 years—Bird on a Wire, Suzanne and Sisters of Mercy among them. He has also, however, insisted on performing them himself, in a monotonal grumble of a voice that suggests what Richard Nixon might sound like as a pop singer. This record compounds the transgression because Cohen includes two songs, First We'll Take Manhattan and Ain't No Cure for Love, that Jennifer Warnes sang on her classic all-Cohen album, Famous Blue Raincoat, in 1986. The only thing old Lenny achieves by singing them is to prove that you can make a sow's ear out of a silk purse. Cohen even invites unfortunate comparisons by filling the record with female background vocalizing, some of it by Warnes and very straight, some of it overdone sweetie-pie oozing by a chorus. Cohen obviously is aware that he is not the second coming of Caruso. In Tower of Song he sings, "I was born like this/ I had no choice/ I was born with the gift/ Of a golden voice." Funny, he is; musical, he's not. The songs themselves show typically Dali-esque mixtures of the enigmatic and the elliptical: "Let me be somebody I admire/ Let me be that muscle down the street/ Stick another turtle on the fire/ Guys like me are mad for turtle meat" or "I want you on a chair with a dead magazine/ In the cave at the tip of the lily/ In some hallway where love's never been/ On a bed where the moon has been sweating." Well, right, nobody ever mistook You Light Up My Life for a Cohen tune, but then he writes with a rare gift for imagery. Sometimes his songs tell stories. Sometimes they just drift in a dream-nightmare world. They almost always have an intellectual sort of hook, and Cohen's melodies are intriguing in their way. If only Congress would pass a law forbidding him to sing them, perhaps under the Constitutional provisions against cruel and unusual punishment. (Columbia)

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