Leonard Cohen has been old for a long time, yet it seems that something even older has been speaking through his voice for even longer. "I know my days are few", says the voice in one of these new songs, and those of us past 60 will perhaps best appreciate that feeling. But a deeper and far more universal feeling has come across in Cohen's music ever since his first album, and it's never been more authentic than it is in "Old Ideas".
What's old about this record, and yet again renewed, is "the penitential hymn" and the plea for mercy from an unbending Law and a Lord whose grace is given but rarely. Cohen's persona is at once the victim, the perpetrator and the observer, but never the innocent bystander, of life in this world -- rather a withstander, who stands with the rest of us even when we stand against each other. His time-ravaged voice, his words polished as rocks left behind by a glacier long ago, "gather up the brokenness" of all our hearts.
This time around we have ten songs of three to five minutes each, and every one is deeply resonant. As usual with Cohen, but more than ever here, the boundary line between speaking and singing, between poem and song, almost disappears. Yet this album is surprisingly tuneful -- not upbeat of course, but achingly melodic, and the arrangements bring this out with a variety of contributions from solo violin, cornet and other instruments. Indeed this is more varied musically than many of Cohen's records, each song having its own sound, and as we learn from the liner notes, its own set of producers, arrangers, engineers and musicians collaborating with Cohen. The women's voices (including those of Dana Glover, Sharon Robinson, the Webb Sisters, and Jennifer Warnes) are especially and variously wonderful here. (The liner notes also show us, by including scanned pages of Cohen's notebooks, the seemingly endless revision process of the poet -- and though all the lyrics are printed here, they don't always match the words you hear.)
In the one song which most resembles `the blues', the singer has "caught the darkness" like a contagious disease from the lover he's singing to, almost grimly proud that he's "got it worse than you." Yet in other songs we see "the darkness yielding," even if it yields only to the irony of being "saved by a blessed fatigue". But for me, the most intriguing of these "old ideas" is the intense dialogue between two sides of Leonard Cohen which we hear in the first and last song ("Going Home" and "Different Sides"). Here again is the old Cohen who is most universal when most personal, whose songs somehow let us hear something new just when we thought we'd plumbed the depth of their mystery. Old ideas? As old as "the wind in the trees talking in tongues."
on February 7, 2012
This review will address the big question: is Old Ideas a proper Leonard Cohen album like The Future, his last (20 years ago) great effort? The only thing on the two studio albums subsequent to The Future that matched any of his highs was "In My Secret Life", deceptive opener to 2001's Ten New Songs. That track had rinky-dink instrumentation and eternal truth in just the right combination, the kind that floored listeners of the album I'm Your Man.
It's of course silly to complain that Laughing Len sings about death too much. Death is one of the life forces of poetry, Leonard's other great line of work. Death is an understandable preoccupation of almost all art, and just about every kind of music apart from the fluffiest pop consciously drenches itself in it. So, that Cohen studies the process and ideas of death is unremarkable in itself.
The old ham has been closing down, ageing and dying with particular vigour for nearly quarter of a century, though. It's a paradoxically sincere shtick, and it began in earnest with "I Can't Forget" and "Tower Of Song".
Death is closer than ever. Leonard Cohen has had to come out of retirement for Old Ideas and these poetic last throes are, in line with the natural order of things, more real than ever.
How well put are the goodbyes on Old Ideas, though, given that Leonard Cohen said them all a few times a long time ago, eased himself into retirement, artistically said hello to death, all that? Do "Going Home" and what follows make for a curious encore?
Leonard Cohen is markedly paradoxical. His lavish humility tells you he's long sustained a tremendous ego. If he leaks self-aggrandisement in the studio, he does so most in his penchant for anthems. A couple turn up on Old Ideas. The problem with "Show Me The Place" and "Come Healing" is if anything musical rather than lyrical. It's OK, understandable. Anthems and hymns involve a precarious bit of magic to work fully. Think of the rinky-dink form, in terms of the accompaniment and the word, of "If It Be Your Will", one of last century's great hymns.
Old Ideas is overwhelmingly easy to accept all in all. The accompaniment is natural. More important, Leonard Cohen does what you're supposed to do, takes the old to make it new. Most important, the ideas that he manages to make new are several of the wisest, as well as some of the oldest, that we have.
This review is too long already. I'd rather you find the magic in "Amen", "Darkness", "Crazy To Love You" and all the others yourself anyway. I just wanted to help point you in the right direction: Old Ideas is as good as any great Leonard Cohen album. You have nothing to fear if that's what you want, exactly that to love. I trust you know how much a great Leonard Cohen album means, how dearly to hold something like that.
on April 13, 2012
I bought this album recently and am completely hooked. I've been listening to it over and over again. I pretty much grew up with his music over the years and have seen his voice change, but the quality of poetry never does. I guess that is one aspect that has ruled supreme since his emergence from McGill university years ago. This is not just good songwriting, but complex poetry and emotions put forward simply through haunting melodies. Thank God for the liner notes with this CD as the words resonate crystal clear. It is whispered in your ear with melody and sometimes ...just a word whisper, slowly softly. Lenny Cohen is always reflective and self critical, even when he is commenting on society in general, and this one comes out right on top. Love it. I hope here is a message in this for record companies that have pushed an excessive amount of (c)rap with bad poetry, hip hop with uncontrolled angst and low level pop for mass consumption. After many years and decades of suffering (and perhaps led by You Tube revival), good melody, good poetry and just mature creation by the Masters is back. Thank God for 'old ideas'.
" I love to speak with Leonard,
He's a sportsman and a shepherd
He's a lazy bastard
Living in a suit
But he does say what I tell him
Even though it isn't welcome
He just doesn't have the freedom
To refuse "
... and so begins Leonard Cohen's new album, "Old Ideas". Is it the voice of his higher Self, his conscience or even the voice of God himself, speaking about the singer-songwriter? Does Cohen see himself as a reluctant conduit for the Divine Will? There have been many such allusions in his songs before, so why not especially now? After another such verse Cohen's own "voice" itself answers,
" Going home
Without my sorrow
Some time tomorrow
Without my burden
Behind the curtain
Without the costume
That I wore"
With this song he sets the stage and calls the tune for a deeply moving, entirely naked meditation on the gooseflesh-inducing nearness of mortality, HIS mortality. For "Old Ideas" is just that - a characteristically candid and disarmingly clear series of thoughts that can only come from a deeply inward artist as he looks squarely into the promises, sadnesses, mysteries and even reliefs, of death. After all, could that be her, the black Angel of Death on the cover, with her shadow looming discomfortingly close to Cohen as he sits, seemingly unconcerned? "Old Ideas" are the thoughts and ruminations that are privy to the elderly - for their special place of experience can only truly be known deep in the flesh and heart of that time of life. Far from maudlin or morose the songs on this album positively shine with and otherworldly light that can be seen on the other side of the words. And because of the extraordinary talent that his remarkable man has, those thoughts and "ideas" take on an immediacy and a palpable effect that goes very, very deep inside when heard, no matter what your age. You are stirred to the core and find yourself really 'getting it' on a very profound level. Fans of Leonard Cohen know this and need no convincing. Besides, what else would you expect from one of Canada's greatest poet laureates?
Nothing is terribly new here yet that is not what one expects from Cohen anyway. The form, obviously, and as naturally as it has been throughout his career, is less important than THE WORDS. The music is there, a lot of it co-written with synthesizer whiz, production maven and film score writer, Patrick Leonard. It's a testament to that man's talent and impeccable taste that his input on "Old Ideas" is so completely sublimated to the cause. His work is so much a part of Cohen's that you would never guess in a million years that he was heavily involved in the project. For me that is of particular note, as it indicates his dedication and commitment to Cohen's intent. Many fine musicians contribute to the album yet it all comes off with zen-like simplicity and fresh immediacy. Sharon Robinson, of course, reprises her key role as singer and arranger of the female back-up vocals, an important element that carries the main melody that Cohen 'riffs' over. And for all the apparent simplicity each one of the songs is a world unto itself. Repeated listenings really brings this out.
The songs are great right from the beginning and even though the CD is only a 'standard' 45 minutes in length you come to the end of it transformed a little each time. For there simply is no one else on the English speaking planet who gets so deep into the soul and brings it all out into the light, fears, failures, tragedies, epiphanies and all, like Leonard Cohen. However, there is a lot of light as well. That Cohen's work STILL reverberates with peerless revelations of all the glorious contradictions of the human soul is a testament to the greatness of his art, his light. It's an eerie light, a rarified pre-twilight radiance that brings out subtleties of thought, feeling and psychic intuition that almost no one else can evoke. It's always what I've been most impressed and moved by in his brilliant work.
There is reconciliation with loss ( "Darkness" ), a continuing wish for love ( "Amen" ), an admission of submission to God ( "Show Me The Place" ), a plea for forgiveness in love ( "Anyhow" ), a simultaneous confession of the insanity of love and resigned joy in it anyway ( "Crazy to Love You"), a profound call for reparation of the mind, body and soul ( "Come Healing"), an exposed and seemingly absurd dream imagery that would suit David Lynch ( "Banjo") a lovely 'benedictus' ( "Lullaby" ) and a final pointed questioning of, even defiant disagreement with 'the methods' and authority of God ( "Different Sides" ). This man, like Beethoven, will go out of this world with one fist raised at the face of The Diety and a tender profundity of love for all of life and experience at the same time. Whether the 'darkness got him' or not, Cohen retains a unique vision of life that is both an almost surrendering relief in sometimes crushing adversity and a near mystical delight in the most common but finely, finely nuanced variations of the human spirit. It's an incredible symbiosis and there is no one else who gives it voice like Cohen.
"Old Ideas" is the work of a master, an increasingly evanescent master on the verge of 'going home', yet one with an eternal and electric 'now' to reveal before that time. For no matter how old Leonard Cohen might be his mind is more fresh, present, passionate and rigorously vital than a stadium full of many boasting youth. He simply isn't done yet. For as he says on the back of the insert,
"Coming to the end of the book
we reach bottom".
on April 4, 2012
Leonard Cohen again shows why poetry and music are such a potent combination in his hands. He just keeps getting deeper into the heart of meaning and thought. Excellent album worth listening again and again.
on April 14, 2013
Leonard Cohen's "Old Ideas" surprized me by being not "old" at all. There is a freshness in the new material that was unexpected. Unlike many "legends" who come out late with a new album the product is often inferior to their "golden days". But, Cohen does not disapppint with this latest album. There are lovely melodies drawn for a variety of genres. The poetry is often beautiful and deep as befits this true icon. This is a "must" for true fans, and could well reach a broad audience unfamiliar with this giant who truly towers above most contemporary artists.
on March 13, 2012
Après toutes les années à attendre un nouveau CD
de Monsieur Leonard Cohen celui-ci se surpasse encore
une fois.Musique comme paroles.
Il faut l'avoir dans sa collection.
on February 20, 2013
Awesome, awesome, awesome!!! HIs last album is even better than than his first!!! How does anyone do that!!!Only Leonard Cohan can span the decades and come up with another phenomenal recording that's virtually ageless. Every song's a winner on this beautiful album!!
Like a fine, fine bottle of wine, Leonard, this album's from a vintage batch!! Highly spiritual and deeply moving and healing album!! Hats off to you Leonard! Buy it!!
on February 3, 2012
Let it be clearly understood that I like everything Leonard. The man is a national treasure. Be that as it may, it was with curiosity that I approached yet another album by this most gentle of seniors.
"Old Ideas" is, in a word, superb. The wisdom of the man is distilled to the simplest of understated melodies, the gravel of the voice trailing smoke through the soul of eternity. This is not the album of yet another aging singer from the Sixties. It is the album of a man just now reaching the pinnacle of refinement.
Granted, Leonard may not be to everyone's tastes, but, to anyone who seeks understanding, this album is not an epilogue. It is essential.
"Show me the place where you want your slave to go." Show me indeed.
on January 12, 2013
There were two CD's in Leonard Cohen's collection that I listen to every now and then and love and they are "The future" and "10 new songs". Now there is three. This is maybe the best album of his career and the best I purchased in 2012.
I recommend it to all fans of Leonard Cohen and anyone who has heard a Cohen song they liked.