Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas

01 February, 2012

By Harry Dam


Leonard Cohen (LC) started out as a poet in the 1960's and the lyrics in his songs are never secondary to the music. His own life experiences are fascinating enough to feed his writing: from commercially failed poet early on to critically acclaimed songwriter with a cult following and then moving on to becoming a zen monk in the 90's and to financial disaster in the early 2000's.  

Cohen starts off the album singing about himself in third person, in a typical self-depreciating mood with "Going Home" ("I'd like to speak with Leonard, he's a sportsman and a shepherd, he's a lazy bastard living in a suit"), a track likely to become an LC classic.

Most diehard Cohen fans would say Leonard sounds at his best when the musicianship in his songs is as minimal as in his masterful 1967 debut, "Songs of Leonard Cohen" and thankfully in "Old Ideas" LC has abandoned his reliance on synthesizers and has kept female supporting vocals to a minimum.  

The usual subjects of love, loss, lust, God, misanthropy, hope and redemption are still there, but with a subtle twist. "Amen" (a somewhat ironic sequel to his best known song, "Hallelujah") sounds like a late Tom Waits ballad, while "Show Me the Place" is vintage Cohen in theme, albeit sung with a deeper, warmer voice. 

LC is 77 years old, yet there is no dull song in this album and even Cohen's bleakest lyrics are sung with an air of bluesy hope and humour in "Darkness". He piercingly expresses regret in "Crazy to Love You", an account of disastrous desire. Songs structured like letters to estranged lovers are still there, in "Anyhow", a piano-backed spoken word and in final track , "Different Sides" ("You want to change the way I make love but I want to leave it alone") 

Cohen has rediscovered the joy of writing music and performing through his 2008-10 tour, and this is reflected in "Old Times". Leonard has produced some treasures in the past, but has often been accused of a lack of consistency in the quality of his songwriting. "Old Ideas" is a return to form from a rejuvenated old master, who has aged so elegantly and gracefully that every word coming out of his mouth sounds like poetry. 

In his own words: "As I grew older, I understood that instructions came with this voice. What were these instructions? The instructions were never to lament casually. And if one is to express the great inevitable defeat that awaits us all, it must be done within the strict confines of dignity and beauty". This new album keeps well within these confines. 





Primary Genre: Rock

Subgenre: Folk

Release Date: 30 January 2012

Label: Columbia

Influences:  Frederico Garcia Lorca, Joni Mitchell, Allen Ginsberg, Hydra island

Like This And You'll Probably Also Like: Lambchop, The Magnetic Fields, Tom Waits, Will Oldham

Album HighlightsGoing Home, Amen, Lullaby










"Well even at this later stage of his life, it seems that LC is still coming up with the goods. I found this put me in a bit of a trance, I can imagine myself revisiting this by chance maybe and liking it a lot, 7/10"





Contributor mini-profile

Harry Dam

Harry Dam

8 Fluffy Reviews
"That second hand living it just won't do"
Mini bio
A sucker for Primaverasound festival, the Guardian, Larry David, Mad Men. Old enough to have seen PJ Harvey in Rodon back in, ahemm, 1995. Martial arts hopeful, kiteboarding trainee, ex-banker, havouza-maker, professional procrastinator.  
Favourite Bands / Artists
Yo La Tengo
My Bloody Valentine
Leonard Cohen
The Magnetic Fields