Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas
In an age where being talentless is the new talent it is nice to have a taste of the good old world in the form of a Leonard Cohen record. Moving to the level of being an information or software culture, there are now often great discrepancies and differences between the mind and the heart. For the most part, we live and breath in a new world, while thinking and feeling in an old one. A record by Cohen surely points to where the heart and soul is. At a time when the majority of those his age are drifting into retirement, the 77 year-old singer/songwriter has put out a good record in his long and storied career.
Luckily, he wears his age well. Dressed in the sharpest of grey suits and fedora, he is still every inch the ladies' man. With his deep, resonant voice in extraordinary condition despite his age, he breathes new life into songs collected under the title of Old Ideas. Even though the new record comes eight years after Dear Heather (Columbia, 2004), in many interviews Cohen has stated that he never stopped working and writing, and being the perfectionist he is, it took him a lot of time to get things right. Despite the double meaning the title may convey, Old Ideas is a trip upon a well trodden path, and refers to subjects that have preoccupied him all of his life: sex, love, religion, God and disappointment, though but not necessarily in the same order. Older and wiser, and with the help of Madonna producer Pat Leonard, Cohen constructs a low-key but resonant instrumental backdrop for his tales of mortality, relationships, longing, dashed hopes and loneliness. These old ideas seem to remain unresolved both for him and probably for most of today's culture.
The album drives at the slowest of speeds and serves as an antidote to a life spent on a beat- the-beat of concrete, the pulse of machines, car alarms, plasma screens and mobile phones. The songs are driven by Cohen's instantly recognizable and unfathomably deep voice as he half sings and half enunciates. Despite that, it is evident that he still radiates a charisma that few singers can match. Wrapped up in that deep baritone, the songs are an intriguing blend of the bitter and the sweet. Judging by the prevailing tone, they are often lullabies that sound soothing, but underneath they carry the weight of sadness, loss and pain. In general, Old ideas is an excellent synthesis of his previous work, combining warmth and humor with visions of darkness, but with occasional brighter glimpses that can be found either in the music or the lyrics.
Rather than making references that would strengthen the stigma of being the "purveyor of bedsit morbidness," Cohen is humorously ironic and self-depracating, which is clear from the first lines of the opening song, "Going Home," a poem first published in the New Yorker magazine and here, is genuinely funny and gentle.:
"I'd love to speak with Leonard,
He's a sportsman and a shepherd,
he's a lazy bastard living in a suit."
The album is packed full with captivating moments from start to finish, with semi-precious stones like the warm "Show me the Place," "Crazy to Love You" and "Different Sides," which find Cohen in an especially sentimental mood. "Amen" is a slow waltz with a melody that closely resembles one of his older songs, "I'm Your Man," and he sings with the same reverence as on one of his most beloved anthems, "Hallelujah." It is a hypnotic and soulful song backed by the angelic voice of Sharon Robinson. "Darkness" is a bluesy track that evokes a melancholic atmosphere on the verge of sliding into threatening doom. The lyrics meditate on mortality, dependence and faith, Cohen's menacing voice sending shivers down the spine to turn this song into an unexpected emotional highlight.
Certainly, Old Ideas conveys immeasurably more experience, wisdom, beauty and character than most artists' output these days. In recent times, Cohen has enjoyed an artistic renaissance with his successful 2008/2009 tour, which enabled him to win over a new audience. That tour and this album are encouraging indications that the magic of Leonard Cohen has never worn off. On the contrary, it seems that his place among deities of celestial songsmiths has been further assured.
Tracks: Going Home; Amen; Show me the Place; Darkness; Anyhow; Crazy to Love you; Come Healing; Banjo; Lullaby; Different Sides.
Personnel: Leonard Cohen: vocal, guitar, programming; Patrick Leonard: producer, programming; Ed Sanders: guitar (9); Sharon Robinson: vocals, synth bass (2, 9); Dana Glover: vocals; Jenifer Warnes: vocals (3); Neil Larsen: Hammond B3, piano, synth bass, percussion, cornet; Robert Corda: violin; Chris Wabich: drums; Jordan Charnofsky: guitar; Bella Santelli: violin; Roscoe Beck: bass; Javier Mas: archilaud; Bob Metzger: guitars; Dino Soldo: horns; Rafael Bernard Gayol: drums; The Webb Sisters: vocals.