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The Boston Phoenix Fall of Adam

Leonard Cohen's son drops in

By Joan Anderman

AUGUST 3, 1998:  Leonard Cohen's son drops in instrikes outby Joan Anderman It's the year of the progeny. Second-generation Lennons, Townshends, Coltranes, and Wainwrights are dropping onto the pop-music landscape like ripening apples, variously near and far from the imposing trees that begot them. The latest arrival is Adam Cohen, son of Canadian bard and minstrel Leonard Cohen. Comparisons are as unavoidable as they are unfair, especially in Adam's case; he's inherited not only a musical legacy but a record label (Columbia), producer (Steve Lindsey), and manager from his father. To judge by appearances, he got a super present -- a career! -- for his 25th birthday. Although, given his radio-ready assemblage of polished modern pop, it seems likely he could've clinched a deal without the family connections.

Oddly enough, Cohen -- who collaborated with established songwriters for every song on Adam Cohen and plays no instruments on the album, delegating those duties instead to some of the slickest studio hands around (Larry Klein, Dean Parks, Abe Laboriel Jr., and James Gadson) -- sees himself not as a tidily packaged rocker but rather as the rightful heir to elegiac despair and cutting-edge artistry. In a recent Billboard interview he referred enthusiastically to reaping the rewards of growing up in "an eccentric and creative environment," of embracing his father's aesthetic of "humor, elegance, and charm," and of his own deep connection to the "hurtful, melodic construction" of his father's recordings.

What the son has, in reality, co-opted from the father's reign as hard-bitten poet laureate of tortured romanticism is a perpetual hard-on. Adam Cohen is consumed with sex. Which in itself wouldn't distinguish him, but he fancies himself as groovily confrontational, as genteel and unabashed, as dad. Unfortunately, he packs his manhood with a sad shadow of the vulgarity and none of the sophistication Leonard Cohen has merged so effectively.

"You said you wanna wanna really wanna have sex with me/You lied," Cohen whispers on "Quarterback," a poison-pen letter to the homecoming queen who traded him in for the star athlete in high school. "Are you sleeping with her/Are you sleeping with her/Tell me, man, are you sleeping with her/Because I am," he spits at a suspected rival in "Tell Me Everything," the album's opening track. "I see her legs, they're opening/It don't mean anything," he announces, a testament to his own cosmic detachment, in "It Don't Mean Anything."

Those boiled sentiments arrive via muted, quasi-industrial beats, gauzy synths, dark piano chords, and eerie/pensive guitars, which sound reasonably mod until you realize that the tunes -- for all their desperate grasp at urbanity and sensuality -- are utterly mundane. Cohen scavenges song structures, and a carefully cultivated emotionalism, from mainstream '80s pop rock. The album ultimately owes more to glossy LA tunesmiths like Richard Page -- who sings background vocals on the album -- than Leonard Cohen.

That's not to say that it's incumbent upon the offspring to channel the parent's particular brand of artistry. Emma Townshend's ethereal, experimental ruminations are a far cry from father Pete's classic rock. Rufus Wainwright's lush cabaret ballads, though owing a debt to both father Loudon's wry world view and mother Kate McGarrigle's tender melodic touch, flow from an original wellspring of ideas. But it's precisely that kind of creative spark that Cohen is missing.

And so he succeeds best when he drops the dark-and-daring alternative-guy guise and marches out the standard, middle-of-the-road ballads. With a few thousand more strings and Celine Dion, "Beautiful As You" would make a fine movie theme. "Opposites Attract" is a thinly veiled ringer for a Barry Manilow hit -- all gorgeous, corny changes and lovely, complicated orchestrations. Fans of Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" will be instantly intimate with the piano parts on "It's Alright." There's not much sex in Cohen's love life, ironically enough. His carnal desires seem to bloom in more hostile and paranoid circumstances. But it's here that his singing voice, a 3-D still life of connect-the-dots peaks and valleys colored with textbook shades of feeling, sounds at home -- even honest.

Cohen's fatal flaw is as unoriginal as his music: he doesn't know who he is. On top of that, as the child of an internationally renowned artist he came up short on genetic hand-me-downs. So the moderately talented son hired out for help, patched together some passably contemporary sounds, and blathered on about booty in the hope of coming off like a courageous poet. The funny thing is, Adam Cohen has a real flair for silly love songs. He just doesn't know it.

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