Leonard Cohen’s music has meant quite a lot to me over the past few years, as I’m sure it is for most fans of Cohen’s work. Cohen is not the easiest artist to listen to at times, with his eighties and nineties albums suffering from the music production of their times. While 2001′s Ten New Songs had it’s moments, there were too many times where it was just the lyrics that were making the songs great while the music just passed by. The last time he recorded an album was 2004′s Dear Heather, arguably one of Cohen’s lesser records, the lyrics were okay and the music was so off-putting that it proved to be a hard listen.
Cohen has spent the last handful of years going on tour and putting on three hour long shows, not bad for a guy in his 70′s. Now that his massive tour is over, Cohen has put out Old Ideas. The album has all sorts of great lyrics that Cohen has become known for over the years, that should go without saying. But what really makes this record shine, is the musicianship and production. The songs here are all similar ground for Cohen, but the production is fantastic throughout and makes for a very listenable release.
Cohen is now 77, and he’s still making some great music and putting his usual Biblical-like lyrics to use. His voice has been quite deep for years now, but here he seems to be talking more than singing on most tracks. But even when Leonard talks, he makes the listener pay more attention than when most people sing. “Going Home” has Leonard talking about himself in third person as a “lazy bastard, living in a suit”, it brings his 1988 “Tower of Song” to mind, but there’s some keyboards here that should have been cut out or toned down. “Amen” has some really nice female backing vocals and some cheesy banjo, it could have fit in nicely with his 1979 album Recent Songs.
“Show Me The Place” is a slow, gospel track with strings, an organ, and backing vocals. It’s one of the best songs here with Leonard sending out a prayer much like 1985′s “If It Be Your Will”, only here it’s more of a prayer to a lover than God. The highlight of Old Ideas is “Darkness” with it’s smooth organ, and nice guitar work. Of course the track is dark, and it’s sure to go down as one Cohen’s best. Lyrics are about someone loving Leonard, but Leonard trying to distance himself and accepting his old age and his depression.
“Anyhow” is one of the weaker tracks with the keyboards being turned up too loud, sounding like a track off Dear Heather. But the lyrics are just as great as anything Leonard Cohen has done. Plus, he really gets dirty with this track sounding like a dirty, sexy old man with lines like “I know you hate me/ but could you hate me less?”
“Crazy To Love You” has some more great acoustic guitars that would have fit on 1979′s Recent Songs. The lyrics are more great romantic lines, but the music is where this track really works. “Come Healing” is another gospel flavored track, only here it’s more like a sacred hymn (or as Cohen puts in “a penitential hymn”). The lyrics are among Leonard best and shows why his voice is among the best with every single line is delivered with conviction.
“Banjo” is another Dear Heather sounding track that, you guessed it, has a banjo! Lots of backing vocals, and the country feel that Cohen goes for falls short on this track. “Lullaby” comes and goes just as quickly with little magic going for it and the harmonica is just too bad to ignore, and the lyrics are quite simple and to the point. The album ends with “Different Sides” taking another dark turn, and the usual female backing vocals and organ. Lyrics dealing with Leonard being on a different page from his lover.
If you’re a big fan of Leonard Cohen, you’re going to want to listen to Old Ideas. People not as familiar might want to start with his earlier albums. The record does a great job taking styles from all sorts points in his discography, but there’s still a few moments that should have been edited. Old Ideas shows that Leonard’s still got it in his age, and that there’s still nothing like a Leonard Cohen album.
Rating: 8.3 out of 10.