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Cohen’s latest may be fitting career capper

Published 9:05pm Wednesday, February 1, 2012

“Old Ideas” by Leonard Cohen — 4.5 of 5 stars

Leonard Cohen is casting old ideas in a new light.

On “Old Ideas,” Cohen’s first album since 2004, the 77-year-old sings about mortality, spirituality, love and desire. These are indeed old ideas, since none of these topics are new to Cohen’s repertoire. The singer-song writer and poet has been writing and recording about similar topics since the 1950s.

But Cohen’s 12th studio album “Old Ideas” is written from a wealth of experience that’s still searching for answers.

“Old Ideas” is stunning in its stark power. Cohen whispers more than he sings, as if he were reciting a confession or a secret.

The album opens with “Going Home,” which is written in third person about a Leonard — presumably Cohen. In a way, this places Cohen on the outside as an observer and a vessel for the album.

Many of the songs float around repeated lines, as if Cohen is mulling their meaning.

On “Amen,” Cohen repeats the words “tell me again: Tell me again / when the angels are panting / and scratching the door to come in.” The track shuffles along like a creeping tango with mortality on a worn out dance floor.

Cohen’s voice may lack the power of his early years, but the frailty works to his advantage in adding an authoritative tone.

The music matches Cohen’s slow, steady words. The tempos of the tracks range from slow to crawling. Cohen takes his time, crawling across each track and mulling over each word.

Cohen is backed by sparse acoustic instrumentation, and not a single extra note is played.

“Come Healing” plays like a wry hymn with organs, strings and backing female vocals like church choirs.

Songs like “Show me the place” could be sung to lovers or the heavens: “Show me the place / Help me roll away the stone / Show me the place / I can’t move this thing alone.” Despite an abundance of spiritual references, Cohen never preaches. He’s content to muse and probe.

Cohen has hinted in interviews that this could be his last album, and mortality is key subject throughout the album, but the songs don’t dwell on morbid self-pity.

There’s plenty of life left, as Cohen shows on “Different Sides,” a song loosely about two lovers: “You want to change the way I make love / I want to leave it alone.”

Cohen’s achievements on “Old Ideas” will be easy to overlook for some. The album rarely builds on catchy melodies. But Cohen enchants in accessible, honest lyrics. Cohen’s words are the focus of the album, and they’re presented with just the right mixture of harmony and tone.

When it comes to poetic song writing, it’d be hard to find a better album. “Old Ideas” stands as an equal bookend to Cohen’s career opposite “The Songs of Leonard Cohen.”

The plays like a journey through the wilderness finally nearing it’s destination after years of wandering.

The old sage may not have any more answers than when he started, but he’s still asking questions to the end, looking for the truth and the holiness.


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