At 80, Cohen still going strong

Published 6:14 pm Saturday, September 27, 2014

Leonard Cohen turned 80 on Set. 21, but don’t expect him to hit the breaks on his storied career anytime soon.

In fact, many people — including me — wrongfully viewed his 2012 album “Old Ideas” as a fitting finale for his career.

Well, he pokes at that notion in the with the first words of his 13th studio album, singing, “I’m slowing down the tomb; I never liked it fast.”

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As expected, Cohen brings his poetic touch, his musings on mortality and the spiritual reflection of a monk — yes, he was ordained in 1996 — to “Popular Problems.”

On much of the album, including the opening “Slow,” Cohen progresses at his own pace and in his own style. “Popular Problem” sets aside the grandiose undercurrents of “Old Ideas” for a more lively tones. Much of “Old Ideas” felt like a man reflecting on his years in the face of his own mortality. “Popular Problems” proves Cohen, a much-praised poet and writer, still has much more to say.

“Almost Like the Blues” is one of Cohen’s best songs in years, and it’s already been printed in the “New Yorker” as poetry. It reads like a potent take on today’s world.

Like most Cohen albums, this is one to listen to with his lyrics pulled available to read along with the music. “Samson In New Orleans” invokes powerful images by juxtaposing Hurricane Katrina and the Biblical story of Samson.

I’ll spare readers my interpretations of Cohen’s lyrics. Listen to the album, read the lyrics or look up any number of forums — there’s plenty of debate and discussion. The album, like most poetry, makes listeners think.

“Popular Problems” is sure to delight Cohen fans, but it’s unlikely to woo many newcomers.

As on his recent albums, Cohen sings in a coarse, raspy voice that’s taken on a spoken-word quality. Cohen uses this to his advantage, and enhances his old sage persona.

Despite his weathered voice, Cohen proves he can still craft great music, as closer “You Got Me Singing,” is one of his most beautiful songs in recent memory.

Cohen is arguably one of the most skilled poets recording music, so he’s not to be ignored. “Popular Problems” may not attain the level of classics like “The Songs of Leonard Cohen,” but it’s a worthy addition to a legend’s career.