Both NPR and The Atlantic have done stories on the recent release of Alan Light’s book, The Holy or the Broken, about Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” As NPR notes, there are songs, and then there are anthems. “Hallelujah” is definitely an anthem.
But it didn’t start out that way. The story of how it got there is quite interesting, and I’d recommend that you go to either of the links above to read a bit more. I had no idea that a green ogre was instrumental in the song’s rise…and also realized that I’d never heard Cohen’s original version. Now I never need to hear it again. Ugh.
The Atlantic’s article has numerous videos embedded, including an absolutely excruciating Bono version that is so bad it’s actually good. You know how some dogs are so ugly that they’re cute? Yeah, it’s like that.
It also includes a “Whitney-fied” version sung by Alexandra Burke on Britain’s X-Factor, which is fun just for the opportunity to hear “Hallelujah” as a soul song, with a gospel backup. And of course, there is THE iconic version, sung by kd lang and hailed by Leonard Cohen and his collaborator Anjani Thomas as “perfection.”
But there’s another, lesser-known version that both the NPR and Atlantic articles missed, which is tied with the kd lang version as my personal favorite. It’s sung by Renée Fleming, America’s best-known operatic soprano. Nobody ever knew that she also had a voice for popular music, a full octave (or more) lower than where she normally sings—at least, not until she released Dark Hope, an album of cover songs. It shocked her fans, who quickly divided themselves into “love it, who knew she could do that?” and “oh god I hate it, why did she do that?” camps.
The cover of “Hallelujah” on Dark Hope is gorgeous. Its stripped down arrangement focuses attention on her rich, velvety voice (which is not a description I associate with opera sopranos), and she leans her interpretation more towards darkly sexy than loving.
I searched all over the web before finally locating the album version of this song on, of all things, a club music web site. It’s filed under “chillout music,” which cracks me up. I can’t embed it, but you can listen to it here and, you know, chill.