is one of the most prolific and treasured song-writers of the last 50 years, but the average listener probably knows most of his songs based on the more popular covers. The most obvious example is Jeff Buckley's take on "Hallelujah", but whether it's a more recent Cults' take on "Everybody Knows"
or The Pixies re-imagining "I Can't Forget," you're more likely to associate his music with a different act rather than the genuine article himself. After filing for bankruptcy in 2005, Leonard Cohen has released his first studio album in 8 years. The appropriately titled Old Ideas
finds a 77 year old Cohen looking back on his long life and contemplating death, regret, and the hazy reminiscences of the past. Leonard Cohen's songwriting is as strong as ever, and with subtle and quiet instrumentation, this long awaited album is a study in a man whose skills haven't come close to atrophying with age.
At his age, Cohen can be forgiven for the fact that he hardly sings on the album. It's more of an album-length recitative set to somber and melancholic strings and piano interludes. From the opening bars of "Going Home"-- which is Leonard Cohen's optimistic ode to the imminent sweet embrace of death and its ability to shield him from the rest of the hurt, pain, and loss of life that this world has put him through-- you know that this is Cohen at his most personal and bracingly honest. Whether it's the seven minute long "Amen" with its recurring imagery of blood and vengeance and unseen remorse or the gospel choir on "Come Healing" (which spurs to mind some of the more spiritual tunes on the O Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack), Leonard Cohen infuses the entire album with a last breath of spirit and heart that can seem at times like a too intimate look into this man's world, but when his poetry (for these kind of lyrics transcend simple song-writing) is this good, you can forgive him.
This is not an album you will listen to for fun. It isn't an exciting or even an entertaining CD in so far as entertainment means deriving pleasure from the listen. It can be depressing and bleak; yet, like parsing through I See a Darkness
by Bonnie Prince Billy or reading James Joyce, the intellectual stimulation as you try to grapple with the intentionally obscure and esoteric nature of Cohen's writing. This is music that enters your soul and stays there, and if you give Old Ideas
the attention that it deserves, its trip down the quickly darkening path of a life near its end will remind you that music doesn't have to be youthful and energetic to inspire a gut-reaction in its listeners.