Sound — 6
Musically, Songs from a Room finds Leonard retreading much of the same territory that sounded fresh and original on his first record, Songs of Leonard Cohen. The archetypal Cohen songs established there are revisited here, and the sound is not pushed in many new directions. Fortunately, the musical ideas established in his debut welcome further exploration, sounding far from stale. Cohen's Latin-influenced guitar work is as always interesting: he tends to stick to fairly common chords and progressions, but he occasionally throws in some interesting transitions. Additionally, his singing voice sounds more confident than on Songs. This is not to say that the album is musically perfect: Cohen occasionally slumps into laziness, such as on "A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes," which sounds almost identical to the song, "So Long, Marianne" from Cohen's first album. This musical conservatism renders Songs from a Room nonessential for casual fans who have already heard Songs of Leonard Cohen. Nonetheless, dedicated followers of Cohen will find this album a must-hear, as it contains some of his finest songs (particularly the stunning opening track, Bird on a Wire).
Lyrics — 10
Songs from a Room is much more adventurous in its lyrics. An author and poet in addition to being a musician, Cohen's lyricism has always been his strongest attribute, and Songs from a Room does everything to bolster this reputation. Lyrically, the album expands on both the themes and scope Songs of Leonard Cohen. Here, Leonard is still exploring complex personal relationships, but this time with a greater sense of ambition. He also appears to be tackling political and social topics, though in a more abstract way than most of his 60s-folk peers. "Story of Isaac," for example, appears to use the Biblical near-sacrifice of Abraham's son as an allegory for a more contemporary theme of war.
Overall Impression — 7
It is a testament to Leonard Cohen's incredible talent that even this apparently-middling sophomore effort, which largely rehashes many of the melodic and musical themes of his first album, is such a satisfying listen. The greatest mistake one could make would be to dismiss Leonard Cohen as a poet who just happens to write songs. Leonard is a great musician with a brilliant ear for melody, as anyone who has heard "Bird on a Wire," or his rendition of the French Revolution ballad "The Partisan" will attest. Songs from a Room is largely a rehash of Songs from Leonard Cohen, but one that is mandatory listening for Cohen fans.