Leonard Cohen - The Future Music Album Reviews

Leonard Cohen - The Future Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit Leonard Cohen at the end of history, wielding the darkest, glossiest, most bizarrely righteous songs of his career.

In the early 1990s, Leonard Cohen occupied a quantum state in popular culture, a sort of Schrodinger’s singer-songwriter: simultaneously legendary and forgotten. There was no knowing on which of the two he might ultimately land. Twenty-five years earlier, the Montreal-born poet and novelist’s sensual yet unsentimental folk music had made him the urbane wallflower at psychedelic rock’s sweaty be-in, and an intimate of brilliant women from Judy Collins to Joni Mitchell to Janis Joplin. By the early ’80s, he was such a relic that the album containing what has become his most famous song was not initially issued in the United States. His 1988 comeback, I’m Your Man, a masterpiece of cinematic synths and bleakly comedic foreboding, was crucial to what Cohen liked to call his “resurrection.” But the status he achieved by the time of his actual death, in 2016, as a songwriting guru of incantatory power, was far from secure.

Released in late November 1992 as the follow-up to I’m Your Man, The Future was a quest for lasting truth in what he perceived as the schlocky, dehumanized ruins of late capitalism. When Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and Michael Bolton’s Timeless: The Classics stood atop the U.S. charts, the 58-year-old Cohen’s ninth studio album offered an equally extravagant but more ambiguous soundtrack to post-Cold War triumphalism: lacquered keyboard-rock with strings, a choir, several producers, and hordes of session musicians, recorded in a dozen studios. Cohen’s husky voice sits at the center, growling lyrics that don’t so much blur the sacred and profane as dispassionately report their coexistence. Heaven is in the gutter, and vice versa—hallelujah, what’s it to ya? Its nine-song, hour-long runtime juxtaposes some of Cohen’s finest originals with two unlikely covers and an instrumental. I’m Your Man brought Cohen back to life. The Future showed he would continue to capture life, in all of its messy contradictions, prismatic with meaning.

After a sellout world tour behind I’m Your Man, Cohen initially planned to reunite with the crew behind that album in Montreal. Instead he went to sunny Los Angeles to enlist longtime backup singer Jennifer Warnes, and basically didn’t leave. He swapped blasts of spiritual lyricism with Sonny Rollins on late-night TV. He basked in the glow of a new tribute album, 1991’s I’m Your Fan, which featured R.E.M., the Pixies, Nick Cave, and, fatefully, John Cale’s influential version of “Hallelujah.” He dated and was briefly engaged to Rebecca De Mornay, the Risky Business and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle actress, whom he accompanied to the Oscars.

But songwriting was an agonizing, nonstop process for Cohen, leaving him “wrecked” and darkening thousands of notebook pages with revisions. He struggled with depression. He saw fires blaze through his neighborhood in the uprising after the Rodney King verdict. For four months, he paused all work while his son, the elder of two children from a previous relationship, recovered from a near-fatal car accident. The crash was the rare subject that Cohen found too painful to discuss on the promotional circuit. “If you’re a parent, you don’t have to explain these things,” he reasoned.

For Cohen, songs were living, breathing entities, open to almost Talmudic reinterpretation, all the way through his 2008 farewell tour. Many of the themes on The Future were already percolating on I’m Your Man: Both albums established Cohen as a gallows-humor prophet able to condense the sweep of sex, religion, and social ills into wry synth-rock, willing to write and sing from perspectives that reflect the worst of human nature. The two albums were also proof of concept for Cohen’s dawning conviction that his bitter, mordantly funny proclamations were best served with a syncopated backbeat—or, as he preferred to say, “a hot little dance track.” While The Future hasn’t been the consensus favorite, it’s the zaniest, the most overstuffed, and the most clairvoyant.

One of The Future’s breakthroughs was bringing Cohen’s apocalyptic stand-up routine into the sharper context afforded by the fall, in 1989, of the Berlin Wall. “It was a universal event, like David and Goliath, like the Crucifixion,” Cohen explained. The collapse of the Iron Curtain and the breakup of the Soviet Union were cause for celebration among most liberal Western observers. Not so much for Cohen, who foresaw a “tremendous” cost in human suffering that would come with the shifting political tides.

The Future’s lithely funky, album-opening title song was originally titled “If You Could See What’s Coming Next,” but Cohen ended up dropping the safe distance of the conditional for a grimly hilarious first-person view. The track stands as a gruff, deadpan rejoinder to what political scientist Francis Fukuyama had dubbed The End of History: “Give me crack and anal sex,” Cohen demands in the record’s first minute. “Take the only tree that’s left/And stuff it up the hole/In your culture.” It’s a rich, multivalent song, encompassing references to Stalin, Jesus Christ, abortion, Charles Manson, and Hiroshima, clamoring for repentance like a sidewalk preacher only to fold back around and question the entire concept. Cohen’s narrator calls himself “the little Jew/Who wrote the Bible.” In the so-chilling-it’s-absurd refrain, he announces that he’s “seen the future, baby/It is murder,” and angelic backing vocalists answer him with a wordless melody.

Cohen’s societal diagnosis is grim: “The blizzard of the world/Has crossed the threshold/And it’s overturned/The order of the soul,” he sings, suggesting that the chaotic pace of contemporary life has toppled humanist ideals about the sanctity of the individual. “We’re already in the flood, just the flood is interior,” he told interviewers. “What is it that people can’t take? They can’t take the reality they’re living in.”

The uncanny-valley yacht rock of “Democracy,” with its Chevrolet motorik pulse and military-march trappings, offered another enigmatic retort to Pax Americana smugness. Between pattering snares and a suspiciously soulful harmonica riff, Cohen rasps the refrain that “democracy is coming to the USA,” but leaves open the question of what system of government has been in place for more than two centuries. Rather than redwood forests or purple mountain majesties, Cohen’s imagined land of the free emerges “from the fires of the homeless/From the ashes of the gay”—the latter line a grisly allusion to the hundreds of thousands of people who died during the HIV/AIDS crisis. He leaves room for optimism, nodding to “the holy places where the races meet,” but he ends with a prescient and depressing image: His narrator, who’s “neither left nor right,” sits at home, “getting lost in that hopeless little screen,” “stubborn as those garbage bags/That time cannot decay.” As the song glides off into the star-spangled night, Cohen continues, “I’m junk but I’m still holding up this little wild bouquet.”

Democracy, Cohen suggested in interviews, won’t live up to the old Enlightenment goal of a less stratified, more egalitarian culture where everyday people learn to “love Shakespeare and Beethoven.” He said, “It’s going to come up in unexpected ways from the stuff that we think is junk: the people we think are junk, the ideas we think are junk, the television we think is junk.” It’s a testament to the song’s artistry that “Democracy” can be heard both as a dire prediction of a vulgar reality-show U.S. presidency and as a Tocqueville-esque cosmopolitan observer’s stirring celebration of the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

When Cohen’s ominous outlook creeps over into the personal realm, The Future really cooks. In the eerie smolder of “Waiting for the Miracle,” with arrangements by his partner De Mornay (who as a teenager had written the title song for a Bruce Lee film), the miracle in question could be a visit by a lover, a muse, or both—hell, maybe it’s democracy. Cohen’s rhetoric reaches across epochs. “I haven’t been this happy/Since the end of World War II,” he observes. And evoking junk again: “The Maestro says it’s Mozart/But it sounds like bubblegum.” His wide-angle lens on the world encompasses the geopolitical and the private both: In the same song, he also proposes marriage.

The Future’s liner notes begin with a quote from the book of Genesis, in dedication to De Mornay, and there are moments across the album when Cohen’s familiar lust hints at something more lasting. The achy-breaky fiddle-country of “Closing Time,” every bit as flush with significance as The Future’s more topical songs, paints an uproarious scene of boozy barroom hookups—someone’s “rubbing half the world against her thigh,” the drinks are spiked with LSD, and the Holy Spirit wonders, “Where’s the beef?”—but a confession of love lies at its heart. The musical-chairs moment when last call ends and single bar patrons couple up acts as a nifty metaphor for how anyone finds a meaningful connection with anybody. Cohen, of course, states his intentions more existentially: “I loved you for your body/There’s a voice that sounds like God to me/Declaring that your body’s really you.”

Elsewhere, Cohen’s tormented search for transcendence leads him in a more self-consciously meta direction. The results can be confounding but also profound. His games with high-gloss production begin to drag on “Light as the Breeze,” a schmaltzy ode to oral sex (“So I knelt there at the delta/At the alpha, and the omega/At the cradle of the river and the seas…”). But the song is most fascinating for how it doubles, once again, as a paean to inspiration itself. Cohen sings about “sleeping in your harness,” a phrase he also used in an interview to describe his all-consuming life’s work: The songwriter as a dog forever tied to his sled, disciplined and attentive even when he’s at rest.

The two covers—a straightforward rendition of Freddie Knight’s obscure ’70s R&B nugget “Be for Real,” which at one point was intended to be the album title, and a bonkers eight-minute bump-and-grind through Irving Berlin’s chivalrous 10-line standard “Always”—aren’t merely ironic. They complement The Future’s other attempts to express endless love in a postmodern world that rejects eternal certainties. If the flood is here, then Cohen is shoring up all of his fragments against the tide. A virtuoso of meanings is saying, in every way he can: He means it, baby. When Cohen at last falls silent, on finale “Tacoma Trailer”—a woozy and lovely drift of Synclavier and upright bass, originally composed for a play, that could float over the titles to Twin Peaks—the decision to remove his voice from the conversation feels portentous and inscrutable, as if he’s declaring, “You’re on your own.”

Like “Tower of Song” on I’m Your Man, The Future also has a song that helps unlock Cohen’s sense of himself as an artist. “Anthem,” a waltzing, gospel-tinged hymn, co-produced by De Mornay, centers on a quatrain influenced by the Jewish mystic tradition of Kabbalah: “Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” If the album has a philosophical underpinning, Cohen told one interviewer, it’s in those words. The Future often exposes human failings; “Anthem” is a recognition that these failings make us human. It’s also an apotheosis: In the brokenness of the human condition, Cohen glimpses something divine, and you can hear it, too. Not that he was so forgiving of perceived imperfections in his own efforts. Cohen said that “Anthem” took a decade to write, and he tried recording it three times. The “crack in everything” line came to him before 1982, and goes far beyond The Future: “That has been the background of much of my work,” Cohen said. On his final tour, it was the last song he played before skipping offstage for intermission.

Three weeks prior to The Future’s release, President Bill Clinton reclaimed the White House for the Democratic Party. The marketing honchos at Columbia, citing the song’s “obvious tie-in to the election,” rush-released the six-minute “Democracy” as a radio single. In an astounding series of events at the MTV Inaugural Ball in January 1993, comedian Dennis Miller introduced the Eagles’ Don Henley, who performed a ludicrously reverent “Democracy” cover while wearing sunglasses at night. And yet Cohen’s cantankerous vision refuses to be reduced to bland pieties. He wished only the best for Bubba—“especially for his wife, whom I find immensely attractive”—and he wasn’t opposed to saving the rainforests or protecting the ozone layer. But he believed such problems were symptoms of broader malaise: “It’s like trying to tidy up on the Titanic,” he said. Describing “The Future,” Cohen could seem tragically prescient about events like the genocide in the former Yugoslavia and ongoing bloodshed in the former Soviet republics, as well as the sectarian divisions that continue to plague the United States. “When it’s every man for himself, the identification of race arises,” he said. “I think those are very dangerous times. And that is the time we are in.” This was not exactly a mainstream opinion in 1992: Millions of others were watching Aladdin, buying the first Pentium computers, or visiting the newly opened Mall of America.

The Future enjoyed glowing reviews, decent sales, and prominent film soundtrack appearances, particularly in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. A name-check by Nirvana followed a year later on “Pennyroyal Tea,” from In Utero. But in 1994, after another grueling world tour, Cohen’s depression deepened, and he disappeared to a Zen Buddhist retreat outside L.A. Nine years passed between studio albums. He never married. The Future, like all of Cohen’s work, can be heavy—wags at the time variously dubbed Cohen “the prince of bummers,” “pop music’s monarch of bad moods,” and “the Lord Byron of rock’n’roll” (not the bishop of tissues? The rabbi of sad eyes?)—but it endures because of an exquisite balance between hate and love, the worst of humanity and the best, the crack in everything and the light that gets in. “Our real appetite is not for the victory of the white race,” Cohen once said, speaking generally for those who might be drawn to reactionary politics, and countering his own apocalyptic forecasts. “Our real victory isn’t Judaism over Islam, not conservatism over liberalism. There is another appetite that doesn’t involve victory but involves a reconciliation, and that’s where we really long to be.”

When Cohen died, at age 82, though still not a household name, he was roundly recognized as one of the great songwriters, his work admired across the globe. “He said in his last interview that he was ready to die, and he said in his last public outing that he would live forever. Both are true,” De Mornay, then 57, told the press in a statement. “There was no one like him, and there never will be.” The Future is murder, and it’s reconciliation, resurrection, endless love; it’s Mozart and it’s bubblegum. Both are true.

​​Additional research by Deirdre McCabe Nolan.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Leonard Cohen - The Future Music Album Reviews Leonard Cohen - The Future Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on March 06, 2023 Rating: 5


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