From the first lyric of the album, “I love to speak with Leonard. He’s a sportsman and a shepherd. He’s a lazy bastard, living in a suit,” Leonard Cohen welcomes you to his thoughts and reflections on being human. And yes, this sounds like the Leonard Cohen you’re hoping for.
The subject matter of his newest album, Old Ideas, is both familiar and new to fans of Cohen. We all recognize his incredibly defined voice. His deep, comforting, almost monotone, vocals are as much a trademark of his music as his profound and often provocative words. Both feel right at home with songs about love and perversion, the balance — and at times, the battle — between the animal and the intellectual that live inside us all.
The soft piano and the gospel choir singing back up on “Show Me the Place” are contrasted by the dark, bluesy drive of the following song, “The Darkness.” And while this is one example, every song holds its own against the previous, almost as if the album flows in defiance of expectation, changing and shrugging at predictability.
The album’s constant twists keep you on your toes. Some of the songs feel like familiar territory for the road-worn poet, but it never feels like he’s rehashing something or treading shallow water. Cohen has always dealt with the human condition masterfully, and on Old Ideas he tackles everything head on. We may be used to some of the subject matter, but with age, Cohen’s ability to expose his thoughts on sex, death and love have only grown stronger and more lucid.
There’s an underlying tone to the album though — one that changes the way you listen to it — it is unsaid, but it is heavily explored within these songs.
Cohen is 77 years old. And with his poetry and his music, he takes us with him to experience the love, loss, desire and fear of having lived so long. These reflections of a man who is nearing his natural end are among the most enlightening songs and more profound expository writing that I’ve ever heard. Cohen is taking us with him to somewhere none of us is comfortable going.
In “The Darkness,” he says, “I’ve got no future. I know my days are few. The present’s not so pleasant, just a lot of things to do.” And in the song “Come Healing,” he sings, “Let the heavens hear it, the penitential hymn, come healing of the spirit, come healing of the limb.”
Look, I’m not saying these are Leonard Cohen’s last words. I’m not even saying this is his last album, in fact I hope it isn’t. But there are songs on this album that feel as much like a form of confession as they do reflection. And while, to me, this feels like the author is sort of using these songs as a way of cleansing himself, I don’t want to speculate too much further on the idea that Leonard Cohen is saying goodbye, asking forgiveness or making peace. It seems wildly morbid to speculate on something so personal.
At the same time though, if that is what’s going on, if that’s how it’s to be taken, then I can’t help but feel invited. And I feel honored just to get to listen in.
Whether the album is more fiction and storytelling or confessional hymn, it’s an enlightened look into the human heart and soul, and right now, you can buy it on iTunes or Amazon … so take advantage of that. Leonard Cohen is an old man. And According to him, these are old ideas. Maybe after 50 more years on this planet, I’ll think so too. Until then, Leonard, thanks for sharing this with us.