Old Ideas by Leonard Cohen: Review

Losing your pension pot is hardly justification for a 77 year old entertainer’s completing a strenuous series of world tours, from 2008 to 2010, with a new album.  But if that’s why Leonard Cohen did it perhaps we should briefly give thanks to those who cheated him out of his security.

The title, Old Ideas, is as ambiguous and paradoxical as anything Cohen has produced in a lifetime of inspired writing and so is the content.  As well as the master’s superb creations and gravelly contributions, Anjani Thomas wrote the music for, and produced, Crazy to Love You.  The major collaborator however is Patrick Leonard, best known for his long-time collaboration with Madonna and it’s perhaps notable that the tracks on which Patrick Leonard worked are among the very best on this album.

The ideas, the songs and the lyrics are as fresh as tomorrow but, as ever, there are recurring echoes of the ideas shared over a lifetime.  The first track, Going Home, is classical Cohen irony.

‘I love to speak with Leonard

He’s a sportsman and a shepherd

He’s a lazy bastard

Living in a suit.’

The female backing singers provide a rich and warm background but the song is centred on Cohen and the journey he has been travelling these eight decades.  Whatever else is true, though he may now be living in a suit, may have developed a sartorial style far from that of his youth, he is no lazy bastard.  No writer merges and manages such myriad styles and cultures with such creative style but style does not imply any lack of effort or energy.  What is also powerfully present is a harsh, ethical view of fate, a sure knowledge of the fallibility of the individual and of the hunger for love, urgently demanded, never attained but nonetheless of ultimate value.

He may be of the Kohanim, the lineage of Judaic priests, and as recently as 2009, he ended his Ramat Gan concert in Israel, blessing the audience with the traditional priestly blessing but he is the rebel who has always identified with tradition.  He delves into religion on the widest of spectra, and, as ever, transcends any particular creed.  Who else could remain an observant Jew, a Buddhist monk and even perhaps one of Christianity’s more sympathetic interpreters?

‘Show me the place

Help me roll away the stone

Show me the place

I can’t move this thing alone

Show me the place

Where the word became a man

Show me the place

Where the suffering began.’

 

And at one level, suffering and despair seem close to the heart of Cohen’s self-image.  That’s always been the jest: ‘music to slit your wrists to’.    Yet this album, like so many before, offers more than misery.   It’s partly the irony, the jesting at life and death, but it’s also the indefatigable return, even at 77, to the search for love.  He still hopes for some mercy:

‘The splinters that you carry

The cross you left behind

Come healing of the body

Come healing of the mind.’

 

We’re all looking for it, Leonard, that magical healing of the mind.  From a generation whose troubadour and counsellor you’ve been, there’s enormous gratitude that at your mature stage you’re still offering us the means to attain it.  This album stands with the very best of Cohen’s creations.  What a joy!

 

The above article was first published in The Caledonian Mercury on 14 February 2012: http://entertainment.caledonianmercury.com/2012/02/14/review-old-ideas-by-leonard-cohen/002253

 

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