I once spent a melancholy Alaskan winter listening to nothing but a
battered CD of The Songs of Leonard Cohen that someone had left in
my apartment. My concerned friends eventually wrested the album from
me, but it was too late. Cohen’s minstrel sound had entered my blood.
It’s probably healthy that I didn’t have his entire oeuvre at my disposal
then, but I’m thrilled that he’s now offering all seventeen of his
officially released albums in The Complete Columbia Albums
Collection. The compact box set spans his recording career from
that first transcendent 1967 record to Songs from the Road,
which gathers songs from his 2008-9 tour. And it offers something that no
besotted girl—and no single album—can provide: perspective.
To hear Mr. Cohen’s voice thunder down the steps of an entire octave
over four decades is a wonderful reminder of the immortality of a good
song. It’s a pleasure to hear his performances of “So Long, Marianne”
(four of them appear in this collection), first delivered in a taut
tenor and then finally, not so much sung as breathed deeply.
To me, Mr. Cohen embodies the scope and contradiction of his songs:
the solitary poet with a plenitude of lovers; the iconoclast who
sings about angels. Even as his singing style and instrumentation shift, the
intrigue of the listening experience remains the same— like walking
into a candlelit room where you can’t quite see how far the walls
Valerie Lapinski is an Associate Producer and Video Journalist in TIME’s Multimedia Department.