Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas (Sony)
By Scott Creney
By anyone else’s standards, this album might be considered a work of genius — or whatever adjective people use to describe Will Oldham these days. And though Cohen fans will be pleased with it, there’s nothing here to entice the uninitiated. It’s starting to look like Leonard Cohen may never surprise us again.
That “brief elaboration of a tube” line is pretty brilliant, the way it implies blood vessels and nerve endings, fallopian tubes and penises. The way he sings, it’s not hard to imagine that the home he speaks of is a grave, that the song is a eulogy delivered to the self. It is, by some distance, the best song on Old Ideas.
Not to say the rest of the album is horrible, but it’s nothing special. There’s nothing as unexpectedly lewd as ‘Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On’, as surreally mysterious as ‘The Partisan’, or as musically surprising as the entirety of I’m Your Man was at the time it came out. Old Ideas isn’t terrible, but it isn’t particularly great either.
‘Darkness’ is okay until the shitty house band from some late-night show starts busting out the organ solos. At which point, I start to imagine that when Cohen sings, “I’ve got the darkness”, he’s singing about The Darkness.
Come to think of it, “I believe in a thing called love“, sounds like a line Cohen might have written, though when he sang it he would have emphasized the thing part instead of the love.
Anyway, LC follows the template he’s been following for the last 20 years. He’s still peddling his bedroom songs for the educated letch. The music is still soft and understated, accompanied by shuffling brushed percussion, reflective and hushed. He’s still more persona than person, singing as someone who has seen it all, wiser than God and certain he has better stories. He’s still accompanied by anonymous female backup singers — a chorus, a colony of delicate white angels. As for Cohen himself, he still sings in that same skeletal croak, with the same stoic emotionalism.
His language is the same comingling of the sacred and profane. For a Buddhist, it must be said that Cohen’s religious imagery is strictly Old Testament — songs of slaves and sacrifice, serpents and lambs, punctuated by shitloads of amens.
The specter of mortality hangs over the album like a filled noose, the kind of obsession with death you only find in the very young or the very old. About death, Cohen remains, as he’s always been about every subject he’s ever written about, more aware than afraid. One can’t imagine him screaming even if he were on fire. Wouldn’t cry if he was chopping onions at his mother’s funeral. For better or worse, Leonard Cohen always plays it cool. It’s part of his appeal. And ultimately, part of his limitations as an artist.
Anyway, Old Ideas is a waltz of eternal sleep, lullabies leading straight into the tomb. Play it while watching the bank foreclose on your grandma’s house. Or play it while you’re drinking cheap wine in your apartment with someone you’re trying to fuck. If nothing else, LC’s good for either situation.
But if this is your first Leonard Cohen album, you’re probably better off starting somewhere else.
by Scott Creney
Scott Creney lives in Athens, Georgia. He is the author of Dear Al-Qaeda: Letters to the World’s Most Notorious Terror Organization and countless others. Read more at www.scottcreney.com