We should all be so lucky. To be alive, creative, and thoroughly (and wonderfully) corrupt as 77-year-old Leonard Cohen is on his new record, Old Ideas. The irony here is that these are not old ideas for Cohen.
In fact they are the same one’s he’s been singing about for 40 years. And from the first lines (“I love to speak to Leonard/He’s a sportsman and a shepherd/He’s a lazy bastard/Living in a suit”), his sly voice, in its customary near croak, near whisper, full of self-knowledge and that inimitable wry edge, gives lines about lust (“You want to change the way I make love/I want to leave it alone"; “I Want to Leave It….”), love (“It’s a shame and it’s a pity/The way you treat me now/I know you can’t forgive me/But forgive me anyhow.”; “Anyhow”), and a general sense of a life well-lived, a delicious power.
I’d call it thoughtful, not sad. The spare, sentimental musical accompaniments throughout are peerless. The banjo and solo break in “Amen,” the solo violin in “Show Me The Place,” and the organ/guitar vamp behind the record’s only upbeat tune, the unmistakably Dylanesque, “Darkness,” are all exactly right from the first moment you hear them. Only Leonard Cohen would release a single called “Darkness.” His conspiratorial-toned voice slithers its whispery way through it all like an all-knowing snake, his siren’s hiss giving the listener insight into the torments experienced by Adam’s apple chomping mate.
Exquisite, atmospheric stuff from start to finish. Well-recorded as well, what there is of it. And the female trio behind him adds accents that sound like Cohen’s angels appearing out his darkness and his dry, self-deprecating sense of humor. Like Tom Waits, another dark, unmistakable singer that Cohen occasionally resembles (though he’s so much smoother), this is an artist who’s created his own universe in which he sits at the center. I’m blathering now. A stunningly low key late-career masterpiece.