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Album Review: Leonard Cohen's Can't Forget

Updated on August 2, 2015

Album Rating:

4 stars for Can't Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour

To Live, or Not to Live: The Triumph and (Potential) Tragedy of the Live Album

Live albums are always a bit of a mixed bag. Some artists seem to put them out to fulfill contracts, some put them out to have something new at the merch table at gigs, and some put them out there as a way to thwart bootleggers, maintain quality control over sound, and service the obsessive-compulsive collector/fan. These documents of an artist’s stage presence can serve to showcase them as imaginative, virtuosic, dynamic, warm, even bright and proficient at the art of the quip or delivery of profound insight; likewise, a live offering can reveal an artist whose best work is far behind them, realized behind the confines of studio walls, their concerts dull, their performances kindly described as play-by-numbers.

As a consumer, the joys of a live album reveal themselves in the once in a lifetime moments—stories from the stage, guitar solos that will never be played quite like that again, songs born on the road that may or may not make it to the next album, rarely performed songs out of the vault, covers that pay homage to but live outside the original… The list goes on, and the stakes for both artist and fan are only raised the older the artist gets. As a fan, when you’re at a concert, a lot of flaws can be overlooked—they get swept under the excitement of seeing one your favorite performers on stage, the opportunity to be in the same room as them, the experiences and circumstances.

However, listening to something on your own, removed from that historical environment, there is no supporting color or shade. The established artist takes the risk of standing before the world naked, exposed, working without a net. A live album typically sorts the established artist into one of two categories: those that seem to get lost and muffled in the folds of their sagging flesh, and those that transcend the trappings of time. Leonard Cohen’s latest live offering, Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, falls into the latter category.

Got a Little Secret:

A Testament to Legacy

Providing a tight, muscular ten song representation of his 2012-13 World Tour, Can’t Forget showcases Leonard Cohen as an elegant elder-statesman, master songwriter, and (perhaps most importantly) a man fully in charge of his own legacy. Of the ten songs, two are covers, two are previously unreleased, and all are fine renditions.

The two previously unreleased songs, “Never Gave Nobody Trouble” and “Got a Little Secret,” feature lyrics in a blues motif that Cohen has used with greater frequency over the course of his last several albums. Those who are also Dylan fans (of which there are likely more than a few) will no doubt recognize that he, too has used this AAB model quite a bit in his late-period output, and while this device can grow tiresome and predictable in the hands of lesser artists, both songwriters have used it to deliver some of their sharpest observations. Cohen in particular uses it as though the repeated lines are a warm up to deliver a punchline, e.g. these lines from “Never Got a Little Secret”:

I’d like to love you baby

It just doesn’t feel right

I’d like to love you baby

It just doesn’t feel right

I got this full length mirror

and it’s not a pretty sight

Drily humorous and self-effacing, the lyrics of these unreleased offerings continue to mine the vein of songs exploring love and the aging process that have provided Cohen with some of his best material.

There is another important comparison between Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan that is drawn attention to and a glaring distinction based on the release and subsequent success of albums documenting Cohen’s present shows, and the lack thereof in the case of Dylan. While the latter seems bound and determined to live out his remaining years out on the road on the strength of his legacy, regardless of the quality of his performance, Cohen has taken to the road determined to deliver the best performances of his career, drawing huge crowds filled with both new and longtime fans, and strengthening his legacy as a result. Can’t Forget is a fine testament to that legacy.

Top Five Tracks:

  1. Field Commander Cohen
  2. Light as the Breeze
  3. Joan of Arc
  4. Got a Little Secret
  5. Stages

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