Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas

written by: February 15, 2012
Release Date: January 31st, 2012


On the eve of his last album, Dear Heather, Leonard Cohen was sixty-nine years old, still groveling on– a poet in every sense of the word–muttering folk songs that plunged the depths of the human soul. In 1996 when he was ordained a Buddhist monk, a world-weary and self-imposed exile, many felt that Cohen had at long last, hung up his hat. Then, in a swindle as storied as his songs, a former manager misappropriated Cohen’s retirement fund, squandering a sum of five million dollars, leaving the artist with close to nothing. The year was 2005 and the storied singer plotted his comeback. The successive 2008 and 2009 world tours were met with huge critical acclaim and put him back on the scene. The question was, how long could it last.

Impossibly, Old Ideas marks Cohen’s seventy-seventh year to heaven and little, very little has changed. The album commences with him intoning the epithet, “I’d love to speak to Leonard, he’s a sportsman and a shepherd/ He’s a lazy bastard living in a suit” (“Going Home.”) Cohen has no qualms confronting his own mortality with a studied theatricality and a hard-lined grin. Even the album’s title could be taken as a self-deprecatory poke at his own experience. Topics range from penance (“Amen”), to sexuality, “You wanna change the way I make love but I wanna leave it alone” (“Different Sides”), to rejuvenation and of course to love itself. Never one to shy away from the spiritual, Old Ideas could be Cohen’s biggest testimonial yet. Some songs are sacred-in-style ballads, others like the quiet gospel of “Show Me the Place,”  to the chorale “Come Healing,” which might well appear in hymnals of the next ten years.

The album art, the shadow of a woman of a camera standing over Cohen, is his own. It goes to show just how superb an artist he remains beneath his many facades. His might not be the most accessible brand of music but it’s almost impossible not to love his big heart. Uncannily, the craftsmanship he devotes to his work is second to none, the slowness to his songs, the sparseness of the arrangements here, has hit a haunting fever pitch. Gone are the synthesizers, keyboards and over-ornamentation of his last several efforts, left only are the bones; a violin plays, a rickety banjo is plucked now and again, a wistful harmonica, the piano always holding the tune. For a man in the winter of his life, he has not for once lost his touch. He goes about quietly seeking forgiveness from his old lovers and absolution from his old demons, all without bitterness, asking only that he be allowed to lay down his burden.

Some artists go out in a fit of glory, dead before their time. Others drag on dimly for years, past what even fans might like them to. Old Ideas burns like the last embers of a campfire, casting shadows on the wilderness around it, while we can’t help but stare with glazed eyes into the din and sigh. Given the eight year interval between his last two albums, it’s unclear if and when we will from our old friend again.

Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas tracklist:

  1. “Going Home”
  2. “Amen”
  3. “Show Me the Place”
  4. “Darkness”
  5. “Anyhow”
  6. “Crazy to Love You”
  7. “Come Healing”
  8. “Banjo”
  9. “Lullaby”
  10. “Different Sides”