Hal­lelu­jah, he’s back

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Music - JAR­RAD BE­VAN

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.

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