Highlights: Going Home, Amen, Show Me The Place, The Darkness
Four songs into Old Ideas, and you might get a feeling this is actually Cohen’s best album in many many years. And while it does get kind of patchy and diffuse after that, it’s still full of that wise, poignant charm that makes Leonard Cohen so special. After all those years – it’s still easy to get lost in that quiet, heartfelt croon.
Of course he can’t sing. But it’s not as if he is any worse at it than he was in the 60’s or in the 70’s. But with that said – there’s actually one interesting point to be made: the quality of a Leonard Cohen song always relies on vocal hooks (and I don’t just mean that ever-present female back-up choir – which is quite good here). So it’s not simply about the man’s lyrics. If you take a track like “Amen”, for instance, you will notice that for all its slowness and long-windedness, it manages to stay rather… catchy. Granted, it all needs a quiet, relaxed listen (preferably in the dark), but I believe that a man with such wisdom and taste merits a couple of grateful evenings (though he does call himself ‘nothing but the brief elaboration of a tube’ in the confessional opener “Going Home”) . I’d argue that hollow, uneventful stuff like “Anyhow” and “Banjo” is way too plain, but overall it’s gloriously understated, stately experience.
The production is crystal clear, and the pianos, violins and orchestration are as pleasant and affecting as ever – but it’s still the basics that cut it. For all the nice embellishments, Old Ideas is about that voice, those lyrics and that simple but gorgeous melody.