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Music / New Skin for the Old Ceremony

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"We are ugly but we have the music"

"Like Graham Greene and Ingmar Bergman, Cohen is concerned with the inevitability of tragedy. He is awesomely open to mythic heroism, to the mystique of love, but in the end he believes, as did Ernest Hemingway, that there are no happy endings between men and women, that the only glory is in the attempt. "Their vows are difficult/They're for each other," says the artist in "Why Don't You Try". The listener may be advised to do the same."

New Skin for the Old Ceremony, Leonard Cohen's fourth album released in 1974. marks a new stage in Cohen's career. On this album, with a new producer in John Lissauer, he breaks away from the spare, guitar-driven folk-poetry of his first four albums and begins to experiment with a more orchestrated, more upbeat sound. This was a shock for many of his followers; following a characteristic pattern for Cohen's work it failed to trouble the album charts either in the US or his native Canada but also it was only a modest success in Britain. Unlike any of its predecessors it failed to make the top 20 albums. Few would count it as one of his greatest works and it marks the beginning of a lean period for him but it contains seeds which will be cultivated more fruitfully in later years and time has been kind to it.



Side One

  1. "Is This What You Wanted" - 4:13
  2. "Chelsea Hotel #2" - 3:06
  3. "Lover Lover Lover" - 3:19
  4. "Field Commander Cohen" - 3:59
  5. "Why Don't You Try" - 3:50

Side Two

  1. "There Is A War" - 2:59
  2. "A Singer Must Die" - 3:17
  3. "I Tried To Leave You" - 2:40
  4. "Who By Fire" - 2:33
  5. "Take This Longing" - 4:06
  6. "Leaving Green Sleeves" - 2:38

Why Don't You Trope?:

  • Alliterative Title: "Is This What You Wanted", "Field Commander Cohen"
  • All Psychology Is Freudian:
    • "Is This What You Wanted"
    You were the sensitive woman
    I was the very reverend Freud
    You were the manual orgasm
    I was the dirty little boy
    • Carl Jung variant: the cover image, which is taken from an old alchemical text, was used by Jung to illustrate the union of psychic opposites in the consciousness of the enlightened saint.
  • As the Good Book Says...
    • "Is This What You Wanted"
    You were Jesus Christ my Lord, I was the money lender
    • "Who By Fire" is based on a Jewish prayer, Unetanneh Tokef.
  • Broken Record:
    • "Lover Lover Lover", and not just the title
    Yes and lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me
    • "There Is A War"
    Why don't you come on back to the war, pick up your tiny burden
    Why don't you come on back to the war, let's all get even
    Why don't you come on back to the war, can't you hear me speaking?
  • Character Title: "Field Commander Cohen"
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  • Intercourse with You: A lot of Cohen songs are concerned with sex but are wrapped in symbolism. "Chelsea Hotel #2" goes straight to the point, describing an encounter with Janis Joplin in New York's best-known bohemian hotel.
    I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
    You were talking so brave and so sweet
    Giving me head on the unmade bed
    While the limousines wait in the street
  • New Sound Album: This album was a departure from the spare, acoustic guitar-driven songs of his first three albums. It adopted more of a rock approach with rich orchestration. It didn't go down well with his fans at the time but has survived the test of time and looks forward to his more successful albums of the 1980s.
  • Special Guest: Janis Ian shares the vocals on "Who By Fire"
  • Product Placement: "Is This What You Wanted"
    You were KY Jelly, I was Vaseline.
  • Questioning Title?: "Is This What You Wanted?" and "Why Don't You Try?"
  • Self-Deprecation
    • "Chelsea Hotel #2"
    You told me again you preferred handsome men
    but for me you would make an exception
    • "A Singer Must Die"
    You keepers of truth, you guardians of beauty
    Your vision is right, my vision is wrong
    I'm sorry for smudging the air with my song
  • Shout-Out:
    The patron saint of envy and the grocer of despair
    Working for the Yankee Dollar
    • "Leaving Green Sleeves" is a reworking of the fifteenth-century song Music/Greensleeves
  • Singer Name Drop: "Field Commander Cohen"
  • Stylistic Suck: "Leaving Green Sleeves"
  • Un-Installment: "Chelsea Hotel #2". There was a "Chelsea Hotel", co-written by Cohen and Ron Cornelius but only ever performed in concert and never committed to disc.


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