Old Ideas album: new gems from an old master

Leonard Cohen's previous album (January 2012)
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Old Ideas album: new gems from an old master

Post by sirius » Fri Jan 20, 2012 12:12 pm

Leonard Cohen's Old Ideas album: new gems from an old master

Leonard Cohen's new album Old Ideas is unexpected delight, says Bernadette McNulty.

Leonard Cohen Photo: REUTERS

By Bernadette McNulty 19 Jan 201210

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/musi ... aster.html

Being invited to an exclusive first listen of an album at a record company playback is usually a poisoned chalice, especially if the musician themself will be present. While you sit in a windowless room, being bombarded by unfamiliar songs blaring at you at cinematic volumes, innate human politeness dictates that under the watch of the star and their publicists, you betray no opinion on your face but delight.
There was no need for such artifice though yesterday when Leonard Cohen arrived in London to unveil his latest album Old Ideas. Entering the Mayfair hotel like a genteel gangster in his trademark double-breasted dark charcoal suit, he politely doffed his fedora to the audience. “Don’t worry,” he said with a mischievous smirk before the music began, “I’m not going to sit facing you.”

It set the tone perfectly for an album full of classic Cohen: poetic, philosophical and funny lyrics matched to sparse sinuous melodies and delicate harmonies, the effect of the eight new songs was almost magically hypnotic. Speaking to former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker afterwards, Cohen said, “I think this particular album invites you to be swept along with it.”

After hundreds of cover versions the Canadian singer-songwriter affectionately known as Laughing Len is probably now best known for his serious epic Hallelujah and Old Ideas moves in those same waters of religious allegory and spiritual reckoning alongside intimate portrayals of love and relationships. More pointed though, seemed to be themes of ageing leavened with his trademark humour. Opening song ‘Going Home’ presented an acutely observed self - portrait, where Cohen slyly presented himself as “a sportsman and a shepherd... a lazy bastard/ Living in suit.” If you were going to boil the album down to any maxim it would be ‘make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry.’
Although it would be unfair to describe Cohen as a lazy bastard. While the album comes eight years since his last major CD, Dear Heather, Cohen explained that he had never stopped writing, and that he produced work slowly because of his painful perfectionism, a trait that led him to originally write 80 verses for Halleluljah. “My trouble is that before I can discard a verse I have to polish it first. It takes a long time.” He added,“ I never feel like I’ve stopped working. It might look to the marketplace that nothing is happening but the workshop has never shut down.”

The results of such meticulous work on Old Ideas aren’t overwrought though. If anything, there is a greater simplicity and directness to the album both thematically and musically, aided by the pop nous of Madonna producer Pat Leonard. What is most striking is Cohen’s voice. At 77, the singer-songwriter is ageing elegantly in the flesh, his once Cubist-sharp aquiline face now smudged around his wide smile and flashing eyes. But on record, it was a shock to hear how low his voice had become. The Canadian’s baritone has always been sonorous but now it has deepened to the kind of elemental, dark-wooded timbre you imagine God might have. Cocker funnily asked him if he thought there was a limit to how low his voice could go and Cohen said that when he gave up smoking he thought his voice “would rise to a soprano, but it had gone the other way.”

The effect is intensified by the vocal being recorded so intimately that it feels as if Cohen is intoning right into your ear. And secondly surrounded by dreamy female choruses, delicately plucked guitars and lilting organ rhythms, his voice becomes an anchor in the depths of the song while the melodies bob gently like ships on a turquoise Caribbean Sea.

Cocker was the perfect host, enough of a reverential fan to know Cohen’s work intimately, but funny enough to not be fawning. Even he couldn’t draw Cohen into too much self-examination of his methods and motivations. “It’s dangerous territory to look too deeply. You can end up in a state of paralysis.”
But he did talk animatedly about how his last world tour has reinvigorated him. “I was like Ronald Regan in his declining years, who had a vague memory of playing a really great role of the president in a movie. I’d forgotten I was a singer so it felt good to feel like a worker in the world again.” He tantalisingly suggested he would like to play live in the future, if only for the pleasure of taking up cigarettes again. “I said I would start smoking when I was 80 so at the rate that I am going, I could be smoking on the road again.”

Whether he gets his wish or not, Old Ideas is an unexpected and precious gift of new gems from an old master.
We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky
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Re: Old Ideas album: new gems from an old master

Post by FOXWOOD » Fri Jan 20, 2012 12:38 pm

Thanks sirius for posting all of these reviews today.
Royal Albert Hall London 1988, Manchester Opera House 18th June 2008,
Manchester Arena 30th Nov 2008, Weybridge 11th July 2009,
Lissadell House 31st July 2010, Dublin 11th & 12th September 2012, London O2 21st June 2013,
Manchester Arena 31st Aug 2013,Leeds 7th September 2013
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