Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas (Columbia)

We gather now to worship at the altar of the Church Of Leonard Cohen. The 77-year-old legend has just released his first album of new songs in eight years. And while there is no Hallelujah here, there is an Amen.

It sounded like Leonard was saying goodbye on 2004’s Dear Heather, but he’s still here, and thank God for that. Dana Glover’s multi-tracked backing vocals sound like a choir on opening track Going Home, but it’s the lyrics that really get your attention. “I love to speak to Leonard, he’s a sportsman and a shepherd. He’s a lazy bastard living in a suit”, Cohen sings in his trademark low, hushed voice. Like many of his songs, it’s full of self-effacing humour along with a large helping of self-analysis and wisdom.

Going Home and three of the other ten songs on Old Ideas was co-written and produced by Patrick Leonard, known primarily for his work with Madonna (he co-wrote Like A Prayer, among many others).

The next song, Amen, was written by Leonard alone and his rough voice had me immediately thinking of Tom Waits. Long-time collaborator Sharon Robinson sings and plays bass synth. It’s a slow, mournful, well, hymn-like tune that features a beautiful violin solo, played by Robert Korda, near the end.

On Show Me The Place, Cohen’s voice sounds lower than humanly possible. Jennifer Warnes provides the female counterpoint here…let’s face it, Leonard always needs a female in close proximity…while he contemplates life, death, spirituality and everything in-between.

Darkness is the only track to feature Cohen’s entire touring band. The song has a bluesy, slinky feel to it and a nice organ solo from Neil Larsen. The lyrics are suitably dark, and poignant.

Even at age 77, Cohen is still fighting the good fight that men and women have been battling for ages. On Anyhow he begs a former lover, “I know you have to hate me, but could you hate me less?’ And finally, a simple, “Have mercy on me baby”. Who could deny him?

Overall, the production is sparse, the mood is hushed and Cohen’s poetry is beautiful.

The final song, Different Sides, closes things out in a slightly upbeat mood, reminding me a bit of something from I’m Your Man. As the song fades out, Leonard is still Leonard…”C’mon baby, give me a kiss”, and he remains steadfast, “You want to change the way I make love, I want to leave it alone.”

Let’s be honest, who would want him to change now? Let’s hope these Old Ideas aren’t his last ideas.

Marty Duda

Click here to listen to Anyhow from Old Ideas