Man of mercy

LEONARD CO­HEN Popular Prob­lems Columbia ★★★★

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC - JOE BREEN

Leonard Co­hen turns 80 on Septem­ber 21st. But if his body is grad­u­ally bend­ing to time’s will, his mind is tick­ing along just fine.

This first al­bum since Old Ideas, Co­hen’s 2008 sec­ond com­ing (and his 13th al­bum in to­tal) is, like its pre­de­ces­sor, re­mark­able in so many ways that it’s a won­der he ever con­sid­ered giv­ing up the stage. Forced into tour­ing after his business man­ager dipped into his bank ac­count, Co­hen has emerged as sa­ga­cious and warm, rather than the clichéd sat­ur­nine fig­ure of long de­pic­tion.

He is also hav­ing fun in his own self-dep­re­cat­ing way. Typ­i­cally, the first of the nine tracks is called Slow and play­fully ad­dresses age and sex: “It’s not be­cause I’m old/It’s not the life I led/I al­ways liked it slow/That’s what my momma said.”

His puck­ish sense of self strikes a more se­ri­ous note on the sin­gle Almost Like the Blues, which links images of every­day hor­ror to his guilt: “I saw some peo­ple starv­ing/ There was mur­der, there was rape/ Their vil­lages were burn­ing/They were try­ing to es­cape/I couldn’t meet their glances/I was star­ing at my shoes/It was acid, it was tragic/It was almost like the blues”.

Co­hen’s sig­na­ture gravel pipes are con­trasted as ever with soul­ful fe­male back­ing vo­cals and softly se­duc­tive ar­range­ments. Pro­ducer and co-writer Pa­trick Leonard has proved a strong part­ner. The melodies and ar­range­ments set­tle into a more Amer­i­can groove than on Old Ideas, and Co­hen sounds as­sured and en­gaged – his tim­ing and tone are right on the money.

Co­hen’s mas­tery and love of lan­guage (“a week­end on your lips, a lifetime in your eyes” goes one line) is ev­i­dent. Themes in­clude guilt and for­give­ness; his Jewish her­itage is also mapped, not un­crit­i­cally, along with a deep spir­i­tual long­ing. His hori­zons are wide and ref­er­ences some­times oblique. But mercy and heal­ing are a key part of the Co­hen pack­age. The balm of the lilt­ing My Oh My is fol­lowed by the edgy Nev­er­mind; the hym­nic in­ten­sity of Born in Chains leads into the folky re­solve of You Got Me Singing.

It’s an up­lift­ing con­clu­sion to an al­bum that as the ti­tle in­fers, deals with the every­day in an ex­tra­or­di­nary way. leonardco­hen.com

Down­load: Slow, Nev­er­mind, My Oh My

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