Thursday, 1 March 2012

Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas [CD] [QUICK&SHORT]

The latest album from musical genius Leonard Cohen was released in late January 2012. This is Cohen's twelfth studio album, and was released more than 44 years after his debut, Songs of Leonard Cohen. It has reached number 3 on the American Billboard 200, number 2 on the UK Album's Chart, and has meant that Leonard Cohen has become Finland's oldest chart-topper!

Major Points
Emotional - This is beautiful, fragile music that seems to echo Cohen's advancing years. His voice now stumbles between a deep rumble and a whisper, falling away into silence at the end of many lyrics. Some of the themes and topics covered here are starkly emotional - songs of love and loss, hatred and greed. Cohen's lyrics have always been deep and poetic, but now the combination of a raspy voice and singing about Going Home conjours rather morbid images, which I cannot prevent from saddening me.

"Backing" Vocals - To counteract his new vocal tones, there is now a much more frequent use of female backing singers. Cohen has often used a female voice to complement his own - my problem here is that it is no longer complementary. He seems to be using backing singers to belt out the tune - going so far as to not sing at all himself for certain choruses (Going HomeAnyhow and Come Healing - all good songs but sadly too much use of backing vocals). This makes most songs with too much female vocal input feel like a cover version. In particular, on Going Home which is still a wonderful song, the fact that the backing vocalist actually takes over and sings the penultimate chorus (without little trace of feeling, I might add) then it really lets the track down. On Show Me The Place this is forgiveable - the backing vocals are sparse and Cohen gruffly sings throughout - so the song still feels like a Cohen number. I have difficulty trying to establish what his motives were for this choice - either he thought that the backing vocalists would fit the songs better (which they do not) or he felt that his vocals are now so deep and gravelly that a backing vocalist was necessary (and if so he overdid it). Sadly, the latter seems more likely and there is evidence for this in the way that Cohen's voice drops to a whisper on some of the deeper notes. This slightly faded feeling when contrasted with earlier works fits the artistic theme of Old Ideas wellbut musically I would have preferred more of Cohen singing rather than someone else doing it for him.

Instrumentals - The astounding thing about Cohen's earlier works is that they achieve that mystical quality of sounding truly timeless - without some prior idea of when they were released you would have real difficulty placing the decade they were written and recorded in. The songs in Old Ideas sadly don't match up to that. Tracks like Crazy To Love You are a stark example of this - while the solitary guitar charismatically picking out a melody is not unusual for Cohen, there isn't enough here to get across what he is trying to say. The arrangement is a little too simplistic to work effectively. There are songs where the use of instruments is both clever and satisfying to listen to - in the track Anyhow the way several different instruments seem to coyly sing the title is great. Overall though, I am just finding minor flaws in what is a very good and well thought-out album. Cohen has always been able to write unique and beautiful music and this recent work is a welcome addition to his catalogue of brilliance.

Tracks such as Going Home, Show Me The Place and Lullaby are without a doubt of the same wonderful musical quality that Cohen has been demonstrating ever since his 1967 debut.

The fragile vocals and somewhat empty compositions now only to remind us that Cohen is not timeless himself - he has aged and is reflecting on his many years upon the Earth.

Overall this is a beautiful and haunting experience, 
perhaps serving to offer some insight into Cohen's emotions.
If you like an album to make you pause, listen and think then this one ought to satisfy you. 

Videos in this review are from Youtube and are kindly provided by:


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