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Leonard Cohen - Essential
2002 / 157:00 (78:30 / 78:30) Minutes / 31 Tracks / Studio & Live / Compilation / CD (2)
Release Date: October 22, 2002 - Columbia/Legacy
Produced by: Leanne Ungar & Bruce Dickinson
Mastering by: Bob Ludwig

Reviewed by Matt Rowe on November 05, 2002

We can write volumes on the interpretations of Leonard Cohen’s writing. And the legion of fans that he has can, and often does, sometimes brilliantly, expound upon his words. Many of those fans also are content to just hear his words. Music is secondary to them. While I disagree with that assessment, I can appreciate their sentiment. Leonard Cohen’s writing exceeds the visionary strength of Bob Dylan and others, and yet has eluded the recognition accorded to them. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not discounting Dylan or others who have made their name on their poetic writing skills with their understanding of life and their ability to express it. But Cohen is one artist who have not achieved the level of respect accorded the few genuine writers of our time.

Beginning his career in the late sixties, Cohen expressed his disillusionment with relationships, love, and laughter in bohemian style. Playing arm’s length from all the anti-war insurrectionists, his direction was of a different nature; his tone paintings of an artistic nature.

With "The Essential Leonard Cohen", Columbia/Legacy have issued a primer on Cohen, providing the listener with 31 tracks culled from most of his albums. The songs chosen, not necessarily his best but well picked nevertheless, are representative of his 35 years as a recording artist. The songs explore the depths of love, untouchable and inviolate. Cohen writes of pain as if he were inking it directly from an inkwell.

But equally extraordinary is his music. I characterize it as sparing, yet it encompasses the entirety of his words, creating settings much like films do. The choice of instruments in many of his songs are perfect for the moment that they are used. So Leonard Cohen's genius is not in his writings alone, nor is it found solely in his music but rather in his ability to marry the two elements and create a masterpiece of such exquisite beauty that you can only respond in tears. Oceans of it.

From the haunting "Suzanne" to the revitalizing "So Long Marianne". From the spacious and promising "Hallelujah" to the sadness of "If It Be Your Will". From the anthemic "Dance Me To The End of Love" (which should have been the cut off of "Various Positions" but everyone can't get what they want) to the remaining four songs on this collection that come from the powerful "Ten New Songs", "The Essential Leonard Cohen" is a must have on any music lover's list. For Cohen purists, its a nice collection for they needn't be reminded how important LC is; for casual fans, its an important retrospective. For new fans, it becomes a sampler of one of the most influential and important icons in rock history.


This remastered collection is a masterwork. Wonderfully engineered and mastered, the songs on this disc stand out with forefront vocals and clear, lowered music that become complementary to the singing rather than a focal point. The ensuing soundstages become all the more extraordinary for their mixes. You get the feel that you're privileged to sit in and watch the musicians while they sing and play their parts. A beautiful remaster. Now we need SACDs.


The discs come in a single case with a flip cradle to fit the discs. A beautifully designed fold out insert with original drawings by LC, track listings and credits, past cover art, an intriguing B/W photo of LC, and an extensive essay liner note. It would have been nice to get lyrics here but being a collection, lyrics are rarely included.


"The Essential Leonard Cohen" is an impossible collection in that it cannot cover all the brilliance at once. There will be glaring omissions, and there are on this disc. There will be arguments over which song should have gotten inclusion and those that should have been omitted in favour of another. No one will agree. Regardless, to have such a current retrospective to play in our cars or while we work, exercise, or meditate is a pleasure. Enough of a pleasure and distraction to suffice while we await his next album.

This review is dedicated to the diehard fans of and its message boards. Leonard should be proud to call you his fans.

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Leonard Cohen:

Various Personnel

  1. Suzanne
  2. The Stranger Song
  3. Sisters of Mercy
  4. Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye
  5. So Long, Marianne
  6. Bird On A Wire
  7. The Partisan
  8. Famous Blue Raincoat
  9. Chelsea Hotel #2
  10. Take This Longing
  11. Who By Fire
  12. The Guests
  13. Hallelujah
  14. If It Be Your Will
  15. Night Comes On
  16. I'm Your Man
  17. Everybody Knows
  18. Tower of Power

    Disc Two
  19. Ain't No Cure For Love
  20. Take This Waltz
  21. First We Take Manhattan
  22. Dance Me To The End of Love (Live)
  23. The Future
  24. Democracy
  25. Waiting For A Miracle
  26. Closing Time
  27. Anthem
  28. In My Secret Life
  29. Alexandra Leaving
  30. A Thousand Kisses Deep
  31. Love Itself

    Ten New Songs Review