Upon release in late 1967, Leonard Cohen’s debut entitled The Songs of Leonard Cohen would reach the lower end of the US Hot 100 charts but do considerably better in the UK, barely missing the top ten. Released when he was already 33 years of age, these songs describe life in the quieter and darker parts of the 60s rather than the technicolour of some of his contemporaries. The Montrealer moved to New York for a time and came to the attention of Judy Collins who covered many of his songs including a few Cohen future classics.
“Suzanne” was originally released in a book of poems, a sensuous song of love and religion where she will “feed you tea and oranges that come all the way from China”. It has a mystical quality far beyond it’s spare accompaniment that would become of Cohen’s most beloved songs and one that Pitchfork ranked as #41 on their list of best songs of the 1960s. The other Cohen song that appeared on the list is “So Long, Marianne” that was inspired by Marianne Ihlen whom he met in Greece and lived with throughout the 60s. This time producer John Simon adds some bass and female backing vocals on a joyous singalong where we “laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again”.
As he moved around the globe, many of the tracks remark on meeting people along the way of life. “Sister of Mercy” about travelers who shared his Edmonton hotel room one night adds fairground sounds to the background. “I’m just a station on your way” sings Cohen on “Winter Lady” that is lighter in tone than the previous heavy religious tones of “Master Song”. Female vocals again appear on the lovely and sentimental pop song “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”.
Surprisingly, the reviews of The Songs of Leonard Cohen were mixed upon release but is a record that has grown in stature over the years. It’s not a perfect album, rather a flawed masterpiece with several essential Cohen songs that have endured for over 50 years. The spare and intimate recording is a true landmark and as the UK sales agree, a legendary bedsit album. It is one that continues to find it’s way into record collections the world over.
In 2018, Kristen Hersh released her 10th solo studio recording and in the fall of 2020, her first band Throwing Muses matched that number. Sun Racket saw the Muses trio, including bassist Bernard Georges and drummer David Narcizo, return after a seven year hiatus. The cover is a photo of what looks to be a Florida back alley – hot, hazy that can turn dark and mysterious in the night time…. Such is the music here. Hersh’s voice on first track “Dark Blue” is scratchy and worn in over a solid drum bedrock, the guitars sludgy and distorted.
The lyrics on second single “Bo Diddley Bridge” is where the album gets it’s name on a track where the guitars make quite the racket before everything slows down, adding a piano reminiscent of Faith No More’s “Epic”. Lyrics can be like short poems, where questions abound. “Maria Laguna” describes a disappearance/return and the reverb drenched “Upstairs Dan” sees Hersh sing about “Dan in drag/barefoot and drunk/Iris gin warm in the trunk”. Sun Racket ends with more atmosphere on the final two tracks on an album that makes a racket then gently releases the listener back into the wild.
After the relative commercial disappointment of 1990’s Behaviour album where only one single reached the top 10, British duo Pet Shop Boys released one of the best hits compilations, Discography. The album featured their cover of U2 staple “Where The Streets Have No Name” and closed a chapter on the first part of their career. It would be a very different musical landscape the lads would return to in 1993, as grunge dominated America and the first roots of what became Britpop were starting to take hold in the UK. No one would have guessed the triumph that would arrive in the lego-like CD packaging of their fifth album, Very.
The only PSB album to reach #1 on the UK album charts, the album is both a coming out for Neil Tennant and a euphoric rush with several dancefloor hits. First single “Can You Forgive Her?” explodes out of the speakers with short symphonic stabs and biting lyrics of a troubled relationship that carried the duo back into the UK top ten. The line “She’s made you into some kind of laughing stock/because you dance to disco and you don’t like rock” still stings nearly 30 years later. “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing” is upbeat and infectious dance pop where Tennant actually sounds happy as it sailed to #2 on the Billboard dance chart. “A Different Point of View” is a harder edged track where Tennant contemplates “If I’d say black was white, you’d say it was grey/But in spite of being treated this way/I still dream of you all night and day”
“Dreaming of the Queen” and “The Theatre” are atmospheric and dreamy with a touch of darkness, especially on the latter where the chorus spoken from the point of view of London’s homeless fumes venom. “Yesterday, When I was Mad” returns to the dancefloor with compressed vocals and amusing quotes about touring musicians. Pet Shop Boys turned in a cover of The Village People’s disco anthem “Go West” for an AIDS charity that eventually went to #2 on the UK singles chart. Their version slows the song down and adds much humanity and emotion which hints and both gay liberation and the opening of Russia to the rest of the Western world. It is a very effecting track that continues their streak of expert cover versions. While Very is more heavily loaded at the front with memorable songs, it mixes the theatrical, pop and dancefloor on one of PSB’s finest releases.
The Further Listening compilation is a bit more hit and miss than past collections but still includes several highlights. The 7” of “I Wouldn’t Normally…” ups the BPM and adds Beatlesque horns. “Too Many People” is a slick dance track where Tennant sings about having many different identities while “Shameless” celebrates plastic C-list celebrities that would further increase with the rise of social media. “Decadence” has a bouncy synth buried in the mix that is more effecting than it’s A-side ballad, “Liberation”. After remixing blur’s smash “Girls and Boys”, Pet Shop Boys close out the disc with a live cover version.