DrHGuy Finds Anjani And Blue Alert
In many ways, it was a day like any other. While browsing for merchandise at Amazon to nudge my total order over the $25 criterion to qualify for that all-important free shipping [this took place in those ancient pre-Prime days], I happened onto Blue Alert, the album by Anjani Thomas that had received some coverage in the pop music press because it was produced by Leonard Cohen. Being a full-fledged Cohenista, I had made a casual mental note to check it out, and this accidental encounter seemed a serendipitous opportunity.
But you know how this sort of set-up inevitably works out. It’s like when your best friend in high school introduces you to his cousin from Kansas City so you go out a few times but never really click. Then you go out a few more times and before you know it, you marry her – and then your life descends into a living hell that makes you long for the sweet release only death can bring. For example.
But hope, as it is wont to do, springs eternal so I thought it was just possible that Anjani and I might have a few laughs together in the form of three or four tracks enjoyable enough to justify transferring ten bucks from me to Jeff Bezos. Admittedly, I was only looking for a good time, not a long term relationship. But, hey, she was hanging out with Leonard Cohen so she was probably into that sort of thing, right?
Then, my interest was piqued by a phrase from Amazon’s Editorial Review of the album, which described Blue Alert as
A collection of gentle music tinged with styles
ranging from Holly Cole to Tanita Tikaram
As it turns out, folks in proximity to me for more than 20 minutes are at substantial risk of being subjected to my adulation of Tanita – if they have survived my even more fervid adoration of Holly.1 When I read that implicit grouping of Anjani, Holly, and Tanita, my mind raced to the obvious conclusion – that’s right,
I’m thinking foursome.
Why You’re Going To Want To Kiss Me2
My jejune sexual fantasies notwithstanding, this is music that is lovely, intricate, and intoxicating.
Many reviewers use adjectives such as “gentle,” “mellow,” and “low [amplitude],” to describe this album. It is true that one is unlikely to mistake Anjani’s contralto singing for say, a performance by Tom Waits or Janis Joplin. Such characterizations, however, are misleading in that they connote a semi-jazzy CD one plays as background music when the boss comes for dinner because it’s unobtrusive.
Such a categorization would be a tragedy. This is, in fact, an album that deserves to be played, especially the first time, when one has the time and psychological energy to hear the music and listen to the lyrics. Lord, now I’m making it sound like an intellectual task or, worse, an assignment. Let me reframe that: You (and you know who you are) deserve to listen to this album when you have the time and psychological energy to hear the music and listen to the lyrics. Anyone that knows me knows that this is not a suggestion I make casually. (While I’m writing this post, for example, I’m also auditioning some new songs from a group called Let’s Be Honeys, checking CNN Headline News, and monitoring the clock to assure that I roust the offspring for chores in timely fashion.)
Lenny & Anji
OK, I know you’re wondering so let’s get it out of the way. It’s no secret (heck, even the Knight Ridder News Service knows it) that Anjani was keyboardist and backup singer for Cohen for 14 years and, yep, his lover for six years.
The tipping point for making this album, according to Anjani, came after she finished a vocal of one of Cohen’s songs; then, “Leonard said to me, ‘Now, could you sing it like you’re devastated on a shore with nothing left to give?”3 Anjani goes on that “All my tools went out the window, I actually was devastated at that point. Then the vocal just came out.”
Well, thank goodness she was devastated. The official Amazon blurb tells the rest of the story
After finding a few lines of Cohen’s handwritten lyrics lying on his desk one day (specifically “there’s perfume burning in the air/bits of beauty everywhere”), Anjani was not just drawn to them, the words inspired her to write a song in their honor (“Blue Alert”). After hearing the result, the Order of Canada-winning poet was so impressed that he eventually allowed her the chance to cull through both his published and unpublished works for additional lyrics.
In any case, Anjani’s husky, lovely voice and Cohen’s new (or previously unrecorded) lyrics4 are a perfect fit.
While Blue Alert stands independently as an album and is wonderful as an isolated phenomenon, it is enriched if the listener has some experience with Cohen’s own performances of his work. There is an obvious contrast between Anjani’s assured, well-trained voice and Cohen’s. One of Cohen’s saving graces is his straightforward recognition and acknowledgment of the quality of his vocalizations, which he distinguishes as “a different kind of activity [than singing].” Yet, it seems to me that the honesty of Anjani’s voice evokes Cohen’s own. (Oops, I’m not the only one. In skimming for another factoid, I just found this, arguably more poetic, quote from Brian Johnson, “And though Cohen doesn’t sing a note on the album, his voice permeates it like smoke.” Yeah, what he said.)
In addition, many of the motifs, metaphors, and metaphysics from Cohen’s earlier corpus are, unsurprisingly, prominent in Blue Alert. “Had to do time in the tower” from “Crazy To Love You,” for example, echoes the lines from Cohen’s “Tower Of Song,” and “Thanks For The Dance” is reminiscent of “Dance Me To The End Of Love” and, to my ears at least, seems almost a direct response to “Do I Have To Dance All Night” (See The Best Leonard Cohen Song You’ve (Probably) Never Heard)
Love is, indeed, the focus of Blue Alert, and Cohen’s words are of a piece with the sensibilities of his earlier work. Love is everything – and love is not enough to save us. And the sex is good, too.
Some of the lyrics are so damn good, I can’t think of a better way to close than to list a few lines unencumbered by my annotations.
From “Blue Alert”
Visions of her drawing near
Arise, abide, and disappear
You try to slow it down; it doesn’t work
It’s just another night I guess
All tangled up in nakedness
You even touch yourself
You’re such a flirt
From “Half The Perfect World”
Transparent, weightless, luminous
Uncovering the two of us
On that fundamental ground
Where love’s unwilled, unleashed
And half the perfect world is found
From “The Mist”
As many nights endure
Without a moon or star
So will we endure
When one is gone and far
“Thanks For The Dance”
Thanks for the dance
I’m sorry you’re tired
The evening has hardly begun
Thanks for the dance
Try to look inspired
One two three, one two three one
And there’s nothing to do
But to wonder if you
Are as hopeless as me
And as decent
We’re joined in the spirit
Joined at the hip
Joined in the panic
We’ve come to some sort
So, listen to a song or two.
Anjani – Thanks For The Dance (Lyrics by Leonard Cohen)
Anjani Thomas – Blue Alert (Lyrics by Leonard Cohen)
If you like those, buy the album and listen to full tracklist.
Comment From Original Posting:
anjani August 5, 2006 at 6:03 pm
Note: I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted July 25, 2006.
- Both Holly Cole and Tanita Tikaram are subjects worthy of their own posts. And DrHGuy has not forgotten his promise/threat to post features about Leonard Cohen, the uses of poetry, and other topics, not to mention such thus far unmentioned but worthy themes as the comparative analysis of Paul Simon Vs Simon & Garfunkel, the list of female singers I want to sleep with even though I know they would hurt me and the chance of Tina Turner spending the night with me approximates zilch, the comfort and strength embedded in the poems of A.E. Housman, and the improbability of an adult American woman wearing a correctly sized bra unless she has been fitted for one by a lady of a certain age who speaks with a distinctive foreign accent. So much to blog, so little time. [↩]
- “Kiss” in this setting is a statistical representation. This recommendation will evoke in some readers no more than a shrug of the shoulders while others will respond not only with kisses but with caresses, fondling, and maybe even a bit of making out. It will average out to a kiss. [↩]
- I guess she didn’t know that Lenny is always saying stuff like that, just goofing around [↩]
- Nightingale, the one previously recorded track, first appeared on Dear Heather but has been completely restructured and stripped of much gratuitous instrumental accompaniment, sounding as though it was were new [↩]