Leonard Cohen – “Old Ideas” (2012)

January 30, 2012 at 6:31 pm (Leonard Cohen, Music, Reviews & Articles)

Neil McCormick’s Jan. 27th review of the new Leonard Cohen album (coming out tomorrow), from The Telegraph…

“He wants to write a love song/ An anthem of forgiving/ A manual for living with defeat/ A cry above the suffering/ A sacrifice recovering/ But that isn’t what I need him to complete,” whispers Leonard Cohen on the opening track of Old Ideas, his first album of original songs in seven years, and only his 12th studio album since 1967.

Writing in the third person about his struggles with his muse, Cohen slyly describes himself as “a lazy bastard living in a suit” but his legendarily slow working methods have less to do with sloth than depth, precision and judgment, the exacting standards of poetic genius.

The song that emerges from this particular struggle is “Going Home,” an elegiac act of surrender, in which there is little doubt about the final destination. As the angelic Webb Sisters add heavenly sighs, Cohen’s weary voice tenderly evokes a place without sorrow or burdens, where he will return “without this costume that I wore”. He is not referring to dapper double-breasted suits, rather the notion that he himself has been “nothing but a brief elaboration of a tune”.

At 77, Cohen’s drolly titled Old Ideas embraces not just his own age but ageless themes, mocking idealised serenity with reminders of his very human weaknesses. For all the sense of fearless closure in songs like “Amen” and “Come Healing,” and elegant meditations of surrender in “Banjo” and “Lullaby,” this is an album still in thrall to the distractions of life and love. With producer Patrick Leonard and other trusted collaborators, he has (thankfully) expanded on the keyboard plods which have been his favoured backdrop since 1988’s I’m Your Man.

Lush female harmonies still carry refrains and colour his monochrome tones, but they float on the organic pulse of a live band, that plays with gentle restraint, and weaves flowing violin, trumpet and harmonica melodies in among the glistening pearls of Cohen’s epigrammatic phrases. Hammond organ and blues guitars slink through “Darkness,” a bleak vision of the human condition, while lifelong fans will be thrilled to hear him pluck his nylon string guitar on “Crazy to Love You,” a blackly funny evocation of fading yet still infuriating lust.

Closing track “Different Side” is no fond farewell but a piercing, psychologically acute examination of a fragmenting relationship.

Cohen’s imagery throughout is elegant, thoughtful and occasionally startling. The music is perfectly matched, neither heavy nor overwrought, it glides by, easy on the ear and on the soul, but opening up to reveal looming depths. It is, in short, and as we might have expected, a work of genius. Sometimes the old ideas are the best.

Neil McCormick



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