Street Sounds: Cohen is still the master of his craft

Review of Leonard Cohen's latest release, Old Ideas.

People mention Leonard Cohen’s age with a sense of perplexed astonishment. He’s 77?!

Maybe this is surprising to those who feel that the process of aging is one of decline, uselessness and inactivity.

It’s a familiar story that the Canadian poet/songwriter was booted out of semi-retirement at 70 when he was told he was ripped off and broke. Cohen’s  relationship with time could be acceptance but not resignation –– move on and see what happens.

Old Ideas is Cohen’s first album of new material since 2004. His live material from old and recent shows and tours has carried that space in between.

Old Ideas sounds like what Cohen has always done, with the vocalist bringing Montreal’s European heart back to its North American home.

As always, Cohen’s voice is intimate and familiar. He talks rather than sings, but because it’s him doing it, no other way is needed.

Cohen’s songs are sparse in arrangement and the minimalism is in keeping with his now deeper, slightly gravelly baritone.  The music is supplied by Cohen’s touring band –– a wise idea given their instinctive readings of classic material on his last live recording.

His music has never sounded so good. His world-weariness has energy and this album could be considered as a segment of his “blue” period. The blunt lyrics with Cohen’s eternal flow of inward observation, casual sensuality and off-hand nostalgia don’t disappoint.

Show Me the Place, Darkness and Come Healing are examples of Cohen in tune with his muse; keeping it satisfied while leaving more for later. And that’s one of Cohen’s artistic achievements, that age and vision don’t cancel each other out.

This is a return to form, being new material, and it’s a triumph of atmospheric  songwriting that achieves the trick of darkly-tinged reflection that bypasses any sombre moods.

–– Dean Gordon-Smith is a musician living in Vernon, and The Morning Star’s longtime CD reviewer. His column, Street Sounds, appears every Friday.

Vernon Morning Star

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