Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas
Still in the glow of a triumphal return to the stage during his 2008-10 world tour, the legendary poet, songwriter and Canadian national treasure returns with his first record of new material in almost ten years. Thus, regardless of the material, "Old Ideas" is an event. It is sweet icing on the cake that the music more than stands up to event-status.
Even into his seventies, Leonard Cohen remains a poet who is capable of lines of stunning poetic wit and wisdom. "Old Ideas," his first record of new music in almost a decade, is a spare but not stark set of songs that cover Cohen's long-held list of obsessions, namely death, sex, god and the pull of both the holy and profane. His voice, deeper than ever, give his lines extra depth, his topics revived vigor.
These ten songs display a muse and a voice that have withstood the arduous last twenty years which have included his turn as a Zen monk, litigant in a fraud suit that left him no choice but to tour, and said already-classic tour. It is hard to say that Leonard Cohen has gotten wiser in his old age, but that is only because he seems to have come out of the shoot possessing an innate wisdom-or at least a hunger for it.
The opener, "Going Home," is a self-eulogy of sorts, features some of the best writing on the record, with lines like "He knows he's nothing but a brief elaboration;" "Going home without the costume he once wore;" "An manual for living with defeat." Here Cohen is at his most self-critical, but with a wistful wit that has always saved his harsher inner explorations.
"Amen" is a haunting torch song, with poignant violin and other string solos that evoke Eastern European folk music. With "Show Me the Place," sounds like a Tom Waits outtake, with Cohen straining to hits notes beyond his more recent semi-spoken word range. This tinges the song with a carnivalesque feel, dark but an anthem that shows an appreciation for the absurd.
"The Darkness" recalls his early period, with semi-flamenco acoustic guitar driving an informal melody, one that, for Cohen at least, passes for lighthearted. Other songs of note include "Crazy To Love You," a gorgeous, folk-based love song, and the closer, the funky but elegiac "Different Sides."
The highlight of "Old Ideas," however, is "Come Healing:" wise, haunting, brittle, with a gospel feel in part from the presence of multi-female backing vocalists. Overwhelming in its candor and grace, it is easily one of his best songs, that that is saying something (more memorable lines: "come healing of the body, come healing of the mind,... come healing of the reason, come healing of the heart").
"Old Ideas" would be a career pinnacle for most artists, even the very great ones. Leonard Cohen has long been underappreciated as one of the greatest poets and songwriters of the last fifty years. His daring, horny and repentant/unrepentant muse, like that of a reluctant prophet, has provided us with some of the most insightful avenues for understanding ourselves. This may be a peak that will be hard for any aging legend, or current young artist, to match.
Note: Music Emissions is further celebrating this major event with a poetry contest, open only to Canadian writers; see the front page of this website for details.
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