Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas
We’re always somewhat nervous when we listen to a new album by one of our favourite artists for the first time; our expectations are high and the possibility of disappointment great. We downloaded Leonard Cohen’s latest release, Old Ideas, with trepidation, unsure how this album—his first collection of new material in more than seven years—could possibly match classic efforts like The Songs of Leonard Cohen or Songs of Love and Hate, albums released more than four decades ago during an incomprehensively different cultural era. How could Cohen, one of a number of reluctant poster children for the 1960s counterculture, a symbol of the heyday of the Chelsea Hotel and a fringe member of Andy Warhol’s Factory, seem relevant today? As soon as we heard the opening licks of “Going Home”, the first track on the new album, our fears were immediately put to rest. While his voice may not have the depth and power that it did in the 1960s and 1970s, Cohen’s signature rasp is still very much in tact as is his skill as a poet and storyteller.
Cohen, who first received widespread acclaim in the 1960s when he turned to music as a means to express his poetry, has always been able to seduce his audience through the intensity and strength of his words and Old Ideas is evidence that his mastery of language has not waned. While he probes familiar topics—relationships, loneliness, and the fickleness of human emotion—he does so from the perspective, and with the wisdom, of someone nearing the final years of his life. “I’ve got no future / I know my days are few,” he admits on “The Darkness” and while the tone of the album flirts with melancholy, Cohen imbues these musings with humour and a light touch that temper the somber thoughts of a man nearing 80. The album does not dwell on death; instead, as its title suggests, Old Ideas continues to explore the themes that have occupied Cohen throughout his career—love, hope, despair and disappointment.
What makes Cohen’s music so prescient, so absorbing, is that his reflections on the nature of existence have universal relevance and it doesn’t hurt that the way he delivers each lyric makes it seem as if he’s speaking directly to you, and only you. On Old Ideas the musical composition takes a backseat to Cohen’s words and his raw, gravelly voice, as it should, though he is accompanied by his usual bevy of female vocalists. “Amen,” one of our favourite tracks on the album, is reminiscent of the Cohen classic “I’m Your Man,” yet is somehow both familiar and different. These may be old ideas but the album itself is fresh, compelling, and well worth a listen.