There are two kinds of Cohenim: those who like everything up to and including Songs of Love and Hate and those who prefer everything from Songs of Love and Hate onwards. That particular album divides fans because it's the last one with real instruments; it's the last one with backup singers who complement the song from the background; it's the first one in which the now-patented Cohen-growl appeared. It's actually my favorite album for the last reason—the voice matches the songs and the instrumentation matches the voice. For example:
But as his voice grizzled, his production values soared: shiny synthesizers and slick studio singers who were mixed as loudly (if not louder) than Cohen himself. It was almost as if he were trying to compensate for the rasp with the musical equivalent of a sickeningly sweet cough syrup. I like the songwriting on the later albums, but the songs are better when performed by other people. To the extent that the dead can own things, Jeff Buckley owns "Hallelujah." (Do yourself a favor and lick on that clink.)
Recent Cohen concerts are dangerous affairs: they could be like that Austin City Limits appearance from a few years (decades?) back, when he sat there with a guitar and a Lyle Lovett and sang songs both old and new in the simplest way. Or they can be like that other appearance on Austin City Limits, when he had a full complement of backup singers and some fifty-year-olds whose synth-stylings scream how into Depeche Mode they were back in the day.
(You can all thank/blame the Modesto Kid for this post. He's the one who inspired me to think about Cohen again.)