by Darryl Sterdan
Toronto Sun, Jan 20
It is, for better or worse, the first word that springs to mind upon the arrival of a Leonard Cohen album. And why not? After all, the legendary poet and folk singer is 77 years old. It's been nearly eight years since he released a studio disc. Had it not been for an ex-manager who drained his retirement fund, he'd likely be merrily meditating on a mountaintop somewhere. The very existence of new Cohen songs truly is, in and of itself, something of a minor miracle. So you can forgive folks for feeling a little rapturous -- especially when those songs add up to an album as solid, superb and satisfying as this one.
Old Ideas, which arrives online and in stores Jan. 31, is basically everything you expect and want from a Cohen album. Which is to say: Sublimely poetic and mischievously frisky lyrics about sex and love and salvation and death, set against a gently sweeping backdrop of melancholy melodies and languidly hypnotic grooves, and breathed directly into your ear in a voice so dark, rich and deep it makes Tom Waits sound like Justin Bieber. Granted, the 10-track disc is a little leaner and mellower than some of his work, with a preponderance of sparse arrangements, glacial grooves, icy keyboards and dusty textures. And consistent as it is, it lacks a timeless classic on the lines of I'm Your Man, Bird on a Wire, Chelsea Hotel or Tower of Song. But a senior citizen who can still produce lyrics like, "I'm naked and I'm filthy, and there's sweat upon my brow -- and both of us are guilty anyhow," clearly isn't really ready to meditate on a mountaintop just yet.
Hallelujah to that too.
Here's a track-by-track look at Old Ideas:
Going Home | 3:50
Cohen paints a self-portrait from the POV of his dictatorial muse, dissing himself in the third person over a dreamscape of tinkling keyboards, angelic female vocals and scratchy percussion.
BEST LINE: "I love to speak with Leonard / He's a sportsman and a shepherd / He's a lazy bastard living in a suit."
Amen | 7:39
A yearning prayer of love and redemption, decorated with pinging banjo and lazily brushed drums, and highlighted by old-timey violin and cornet. Absolutely gorgeous.
BEST LINE: "Tell me again when I'm clean and I'm sober ... Tell me you want me then."
Show Me the Place | 4:08
Leonard is a love slave seeking guidance to the strains of a gospel waltz performed on piano, organ and violin -- along with another heavenly chorus of female vocalists.
BEST LINE: "There were chains / So I loved you like a slave."
Darkness | 4:30
This slowburning blues number about catching a bad dose of love is the disc's only cut to feature Cohen's full touring band. Naturally, it's the liveliest track on the album.
BEST LINE: "I caught the darkness drinking from your cup / I said: Is this contagious? You said: 'Just drink it up.' "
Anyhow | 3:09
In a voice as intimate and suggestive as an obscene caller, Leonard begs for absolution -- and something a little more physical -- with a late-night lounge ballad.
BEST LINE: "Dreamed about you, baby / You were wearing half your dress / I know you have to hate me / But could you hate me less?"
Crazy to Love You | 3:08
Cohen digs out the acoustic guitar for this fingerpicked folk ode to the contortions we put ourselves through for love.
BEST LINE: "I'm old and the mirrors don't lie."
Come Healing | 2:53
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to forgive and be merciful, with the help of Rabbi Cohen, his female choir and a gently glowing organ.
BEST LINE: "O gather up the brokenness and bring it to me now / The fragrance of those promises you never dared to vow."
Banjo | 3:26
An evil banjo stalks Cohen in this rustic hybrid of folk-blues and doo-wop, which comes garnished with slide guitar and cornet. Sweet and simple.
BEST LINE: "It's coming for me darling, no matter where I go / Its duty is to harm me / My duty is to know."
Lullaby | 4:48
A lazy country waltz built around a simple guitar arpeggio and topped with a lonely harmonica and rubbery bassline. It'll send you to dreamland all right.
BEST LINE: "Well the mouse ate the crumb / Then the cat ate the crust / Now they've fallen in love / They're talking in tongues."
Different Sides | 4:10
Most artists finish with a ballad. Trust Leonard to pitch a curve ball with this smouldering soul groover fuelled by gently pumping keyboards and combative vocals.
BEST LINE: "C'mon baby give me a kiss / Stop writing everything down."