New music: Leonard Cohen, at 82, delivers a soul-baring album; San Fran psychedelic pioneers, and an Auckland veteran release albums
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
You Want It Darker
At 82, Leonard Cohen's currency in popular culture is at an all-time high. You Want It Darker isn't as bleak as the title or stark black and white cover might suggest. It's more like a rhetorical statement about his own life-long search for a meaningful relationship with God, one that has been largely made in the image and likeness of Judaism and thus has heavy Biblical references and imagery, crossed into Buddhism, and yet remains elusive. Age has given his raspy baritone a fragility that is perfectly suited to the doubts, anxieties and weary resignation of songs such as the title track and Leaving The Table. Cohen though remains graceful even in defeat, which, for him, is part acknowledgment of his own mortality and, on It Seemed The Better Way, part resignation that revelation has eluded him or at least proved illusory. The lyrics far from being darker are among his most intimate and, as Cohen lays bare his soul, his son Aaron, ironically, gives substance and meaning to his trials and tribulations, thus giving the word flesh, with delicate strings, hushed organ chords, nostalgic guitar lines, choral surges and rhythms that snake along slower than a dirge. He may not have ever found it for himself but Cohen still remains the light in the darkness as far as musical avatars go.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Third World Pyramid
16th studio album from legendary San Francisco neo-psychedelic group. Third World Pyramid is filled with stunning chords and textures. Longtime driving force Anton Newcombe sounds as good as ever with his stripped back almost shoegaze-esque vocal style. Don't Get Lost sounds like classic Brian Jonestown with its twangy guitar riffs and strange yet somehow uplifting melodies. Opener Good Mourning contains some stunning female guest vocal work. Government Beard almost has an Echo and the Bunnymen vibe to it with a great driving beat. While Brian Jonestown at times use their guitars in a generic "jamming the blues" way, it's done with taste and great guitar tones.
Greg Fleming and the Working Poor
To Hell With These Streets
(Forget the Past Records)
Long a staple of the Auckland music scene, singer-songwriter Greg Fleming turns to the seedy side of life on his third album, To Hell With These Streets. Gravelly-voiced Fleming was inspired after playing a show with the great Townes van Zant in 1990, and here he delves into familiar Townes territory with gusto: noir songs about late nights, tragic figures and chance encounters abound. Occasionally they're acoustic – take Liquor Store, a downcast tale on a tragic store hold up – but more often they roll along with tough backing from Fleming's truly fantastic backing band, The Working Poor. Evocative songs that are wonderfully played and beautifully produced, To Hell With These Streets is a solid effort.
- Sunday Star Times