Although a compilation this is a nigh on perfect survey of Cohen's early - and probably strongest - ouevre. I struggle to think of one bad track on the record. Cohen further enhances the reputation of the 'Greatest Hits' comp, by including some poetic and enigmatic sleeve notes to on the writing of each track. The album's artwork is even a perfect encapsulation of the Cohen persona, alone, aloof and infinitely cool (the smoke ring picture in particular is album art at its best). Among the songs selected you have the dreamy, blissed out nightmare which is 'Suzanne', the gorgeously bitter 'So Long, Marianne' and the majestic memorial 'Chelsea Hotel No.2'. Each record is saturated with a stimulating melancholia, something only Cohen has ever really mastered. A mood so dense that it will not allow you to feel just the one monolithic sensation. Much of the trick in Cohen's tail is his ability to undermine the meaning of a lyric with the closing couplet. Often each line is ambiguously set up in this fashion. Take 'Chelsea Hotel' and it's closer 'That's all I don't think of you that often', which comes after three minutes of reminiscence. Another fine example is in 'So Long, Marianne' with the scaborous 'Oh, you are really such a pretty one I see you've gone and changed your name again and just when I climbed this whole mountainside to wash my eyelids in the rain.', which in this case follows about six verses of indifference and a sudden seachange into neediness.
Cohen's ladies-man persona is constructed around such unabashed emotional openness and not the haughty austerity of his more calculated and cereberal image. Nonetheless the depth of learning expressed in the allegorical and metaphorical content of much of Cohen's lyrics is staggering and the way that he converts this old testament rabbinical world view into his own questing for love and fleshly companionship is quite staggering. No other singer-songwriter (including Dylan) can boast the ability to tread the fine line of mythic and immediate. In essence all of Cohen's work on this record is about something essential and wholly beautiful, the spiritual need for communion and yet the distance that can often emerge from it's trail. The best starting point for anyone not yet Cohenified (in a wholly pretentious way Cohen is a real I.D. badge, not one person I've met who likes him has turned out to be an asshole).