Hallelujah, he’s back
LEONARD Cohen is pretty funny.
Those are five words people don’t often string together but it’s true.
Yes, he is often painted as a morbid purveyor of heartbroken despair.
A writer of only heavy, introspective material.
Yet every now and then he slides a wry comment through to the keeper that brings a smile.
On this new album’s unhurried opener Going Home he delivers the line: ‘‘ I’d love to speak with Leonard / He’s a sportsman and a shepherd / He’s a lazy bastard living in a suit’’.
It’s a moment that provides a chuckle but it’s also easy to imagine Cohen giving himself an uneasy glance in his bathroom mirror. Maybe he doesn’t like what he sees.
The album title tickled me too. Ever since he switched from a life as Canada’s best- known poet to musician in ’ 67, Cohen has been working with the same palette of colours, a never- ending circle of sex, love, death, Biblical themes, drugs, enlightenment around and around in complex riddles. Old Ideas indeed. And what else should we expect: hip- hop?
On a delicate, dusty song such as Anyhow, it’s tricky to tell if he’s talking about sex or death: ‘‘ I’m naked and I’m filthy and there’s sweat upon my brow / And both of us are guilty anyhow.’’
He could be hinting at both, and that universal appeal is one of his lasting gifts.
Old Ideas’ 10 songs never gallop above a careful, crawling pace.
Cohen’s vocals are almost whispered, as if exposing secrets to a trusted friend.
The musical backdrop is little more than a soundtrack to his raspy musings.
Most often the music is skeletal and bare- boned except for the jaunty blues guitar and organ swell on Darkness.
There are thin, modest keys and guitars, a pitter- patter of brushed drums and the odd female vocal in the background, which, incidentally, always sound lush and lightweight compared to Cohen’s patented tone and delivery.
Somehow the stripped- down music makes his words all the more intense and raw; there are few distractions.
This choice was really the biggest surprise of the whole record.
Especially coming on the back of his wildly popular two- year world tour with a large stage band that gave him plenty of oomph.
Old Ideas has been widely acclaimed as Cohen’s best album since the mid1980s.
A compliment, perhaps, or damnation of his last album? Either way, the 77- year- old singer knows he’s ‘‘ got no future’’ and that ‘‘ my days are few’’.
But until then, there are his old ideas, rendered in beautiful perfection.