‘Old Ideas’ suggests new frame of mind
Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen has led a color-laden life over the course of his 77 years. He’s seen the world through the eyes of several masks, including but not limited to: established musician, emotive laureate and Warhol Factory staple. Through four decades of 12 studio albums, his music has only slightly evolved but always asserts its relevance. His newest release, January’s “Old Ideas,” continues in the same sparse vein as his early albums while also offering new insight into Cohen’s feelings regarding sex, faith and more sex.
One noteworthy characteristic of Cohen’s music is his gruff, sometimes unsettling voice that breathlessly utters his carefully penned songs of love and hate. With slanted tales woven from ambivalence and life experience, the entirety of “Old Ideas” is separated from the overproduced “I’m Your Man” era -a long-anticipated nod to the songwriter’s old ways that inspired the likes of Tom Waits and Nick Cave. This return to simplicity is awarded with not only more respect from devotees but also exposure to a younger audience, especially since the album reached number three on the Billboard 200 during the week of its release.
The album’s opener, “Going Home,” greets its listener with pure satire that could only be bred by its writer, the verse painting a grim portrait of a Leonard who is little more than a “lazy bastard living in a suit.” On the surface, the rest of the album hardly takes a departure from this formula, echoing the same gritty self-loathing throughout. But those who give the album a close, reflective listen will find vivid eroticism that’s hard to miss. Between the filthy, guilt-free rendezvous of “Anyhow” to the orgasmic lilt of “Lullaby,” “Ideas” is guaranteed a top five slot on any user-created list of sex soundtracks.
Cohen’s musical arrangements have also made a return to form, making the leap from overworked standards to tasteful melodies. Much of the music has its roots in gospel and blues, but there are also several elements drawing from the genres of blues and alternative country. Gone are the synthesizers, exhausted guitars and artificial percussion. Instead we’re greeted with a far more appealing project that utilizes piano tunes and choral accompaniment to evoke a haunting ethos not unlike the one found on some of Johnny Cash’s last recordings.
Perhaps a single drawback for long-time fans is the recording’s feeling of finality. By no means is this intended to be his last contribution, but the fantasy this work evokes is certainly concocted from sadness. It’s not hard to imagine Cohen as a curmudgeonly shadow, downing his last bit of scotch before heading for the piano bar exit for the last time. But it’s that sense of regretful conclusiveness, paired with dark humor and minimalism, that will ensure the inclusion of “Old Ideas” into a portfolio of Cohen’s masterpieces.