Cohen began his musical career suspended between song and speech. In 1967, “Songs of Leonard Cohen” introduced listeners to Cohen’s strong nasal tenor, which suited the casual roué he conjured on songs like “Suzanne” and “So Long, Marianne.” The production is spare: mostly acoustic instruments and, at Cohen’s request, no drums. Though he is working in Bob Dylan’s shadow, his manner is more relaxed and his visions are slightly less gnomic: “I lit a thin green candle, to make you jealous of me. But the room just filled up with mosquitoes—they heard that my body was free,” he sings, in “One of Us Cannot Be Wrong.” An unadorned style has served Cohen’s albums best, the voice clean and clearly audible. In 1977, for the album “Death of a Ladies’ Man,” Cohen’s uneasy collaboration with the producer Phil Spector—who excluded him from the final mixing sessions—resulted in a dreadful mix of pop, country, and some weird variant of disco. (Cohen later called it “grotesque.”) By the time of “I’m Your Man,” which came out in 1988, Cohen was composing on keyboard rather than on his nylon-string acoustic guitar. Synthesizers add a bright and lapidary quality that doesn’t always fit the lyrics. But the songs—about desire and aging—are stunning, and Cohen’s voice has shed its honking quality and grown darker and looser, like a tire ripped open.
more from Sasha Frere-Jones at The New Yorker here.