when 'dear heather' came out, i had the impression the uk press was very favourable. i remember being on the tube one groggy morning, and suddenly realising to my great delight that a dozen leonards were smiling wryly at me from the covers of my fellow-passengers' metros (the metro being a daily free paper, designed for semi-conscious reading on the way to work, where one would generally expect to find articles on the likes of robbie williams or kylie). i remember 'heather' being album of the week in at least a couple of places. however, i have to say - and i say this as a lifelong cohen devotee, who owns all the albums, had made the pilgrimmage to hydra, and so on - i have to say that the praise was undeserved. 'dear heather' really isn't much cop.
the best thing about it i think is the sound of leonard's voice - he doesn't really seem to do notes any more, let alone tunes, but that impossibly deep, subterranean rumble of his is endlessly benign and reassuring, like your wicked, wise old grandfather. he doesn't seem to have much to do with it, though, except recite poems (mostly old stuff, or other people's') over pointless plinky-plonky synth tracks. a disc of leonard reading his, and or others', work aloud would have been far more satisfying than listening to 'go no more a-roving' or the title track.
'on that day' is particularly disappointing - the blizzard of the world really has crossed the threshold, and it seems the finest lyricist who ever walked the earth really has nothing of any interest to say about it.
of course, there are a few good bits, a couple of good lines: 'my heart the shape of a begging bowl', the first sentence of 'because of'. but overall, very sadly, this sounds to me like the album of a man who has reached the end of his talent - and for this reason, yes, it does sound like a farewell. this elegiac mood is beautifully captured in the only really strong track on this weak album, 'the faith' - this is a beautiful, heartbreaking song, worthy of leonard at his best, and it does sound like a song of leavetaking. but, with bitter irony, the only song on the album that can adequately expresses this sad sense that it has been wonderful, but it's finished, and it's time to bow out gracefully, is a reconstructed outtake from the eighties, with hakopian and bilezikjian and all the old gang playing their hearts out. listen to the way leonard's delicious baritone fades from the mix in the final verse, so it's just anjani left singing his words. leonard has gone.
i read somewhere recently that lorca cohen had said her father was on the point of retiring before the current financial crisis came to light. i can well believe it. 'dear heather', i'm afraid, sounded like the time had come, leonard had given us all he had to give, alexandra had now left, and it was time to pass into silence and retirement with the dignity that has always been a part of leonard's greatness and his charm.
maybe he just got too happy. i'd argue that his powers as a songwriter were already waning on 'ten new songs' - though that was a much better album than 'dear heather' - and that buddhism may have made him a happier man, but it also put out the fires that were burning in his work (i actually think buddhism is inimical to art, but that's another story).
but, apparently, this is not goodbye, there's to be more after all. someone raised the parallel with dylan earlier on this thread - yes, 'nashville skyline' and 'john wesley harding' and the albums dylan produced from his domestic idyll in woodstock were kind of good-ish, but it wasn't till the dream, and the marriage, fell cataclysmically apart that dylan produced another stone-cold masterpiece (i refer, of course, to blood on the tracks).
so, for leonard's sake, i hope he weathers this present crisis with his equanimity intact. but it might suit his muse better if it tore him apart.