As pretentious statements go, “I liked his earlier stuff” might be one of the most insufferable. But, to be honest, I can’t think of any other way to describe my feelings about Leonard Cohen: Songs Of Love and Hate is one of my all-time favorite records, but his sudden gear shift into electronica in the 80’s, and then again into vaguely funk-y territory in the 2000’s left me cold.
It was with trepidation then that I approached the husky voiced troubadour’s new single, Never Gave Nobody Trouble; perhaps a little too much trepidation, as it turns out, because although the song never becomes really distinctive enough to leave a mark, it’s far from terrible. It’s good, slightly middle of the road stuff: serviceable, more than anything.
The lyrics are far from Cohen’s best, and though the ‘twist’ that gives the “never gave nobody trouble” refrain its punch is nice, the efforts are lack the fire or bitterness that gave the man’s poetry its edge in the past.
The melodies Cohen sings over are fine, though predictable. There is something exceedingly hum-drum about the harmony and instrumentation, a kind of lackluster traditionalism perhaps best evidenced in very final two chords of the tune, a strummed finale that is so overwrought it’s almost a musical cliché.
But, hey, all up, Never Gave Nobody Trouble isn’t a musical train wreck, or even really a disappointment. It’s nice; it’s good; it’ll do.