Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas

Old Ideas (Columbia)

Jan. 31 2012

Whispering of smoke and desire.

“Show me the place / help me roll away the stone / show me the place, I can not move this thing alone / show me the place where the word Became a man / show me the place where the suffering Began.”

“Old Ideas” is the twelfth studio album by Leonard Cohen on Columbia Records since 1967 but his first in eight years. The Canadian singer-songwriter, now 77 and with a career spanning over 44 years, has this time created an autumn album: “They are old ideas, old ideas in the sense that they are unresolved, old moral issues”, “I have an idea at a time,” he explains. “And on that, I can work forever.” To him, it seems, the album is nothing special.  After all “These are ideas that have been rattling around in the mind of cultures for a long time.”

The album benefits from a change in Cohen’s voice.  Invigorated from the experience of playing 247 shows in 31 countries between 2008 and 2010 to recover losses from the dispute with his former manager Kelley Lynch, Cohen quit smoking and his extraordinary voice has become more direct and real. This experience of returning to the stage seems to be the key to “Old Ideas”: born of a desire to return to the simplicity of touring with his musicians, Cohen brings his songs back to their essence, stripping them of the simpering patina that had clouded his previous albums “Ten New Songs” and “Dear Heather”.

The music instead becomes smoky sighs similar to blues and jazz, everything seems to belong to “a manual to live with defeat,” seeking to teach us how to live with disappointment. All is neat, and with the music stripped to the bone, Cohen’s music becomes even more acute and penetrating, it changes from shades of gospel choirs led by Webb Sisters in the meditative, country-style “Banjo”.  The overall impression is that “Old Ideas” provides a lot of new lines for the future.

Through the darkness of a Hammond organ, some blues guitars and his writing in the third person, Cohen paints a gloomy vision of the human condition. The usual themes are timeless memories of his own weaknesses; elegant meditations flowing fast towards a final destination. “Going home without my weight / Back at home behind the curtain / Going home without this costume that I wore” he sings.

The album recording started in January 2011, although songs like “Lullaby” and “The Darkness” already featured in Cohen’s last world tour. The album was produced by Patrick Leonard, producer of Madonna from the time of “Who’s that girl” to “Ray of Light”, Anjani Thomas (partner of Cohen), Ed Sanders and Dino Soldo, and features guest vocalist Dana Glover, a key figure of Sharon Robinson, Webb Sisters (Charley and Hattie) and friend of Jennifer Warnes.

Although nearly eighty, Cohen is anything but resigned. There is already talk of another album and another tour. Despite the lyrics “I have no future / I know that I remain a few days / This is not so nice / just a bunch of things to do” we will anxiously await some further news from one of Canada’s musical greats.

Antonello Furione

Contacts: leonardcohen.com

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