Old Ideas (Columbia)
Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., Feb. 24, 2012
Leonard CohenOld Ideas (Columbia)
Leonard Cohen, 77, doubtlessly always possessed wisdom and wit well beyond his years. Now entering his sixth decade of recording and more than 40 years after the prophetic passion of Songs of Love and Hate in 1971, the Canadian poet's experienced tales of personal, sexual, and religious rapture have aged with a sense of wistful defeat and weathered acceptance. Old Ideas, his first album of new material since 2004's Dear Heather, gently approaches that good night with a knowing wink and nod. "I love to speak with Leonard/He's a sportsman and a shepherd/He's a lazy bastard/Living in a suit," intones Cohen on opener "Going Home," a self-effacing psalm. And "gentle" is the operative word here. Sedated and seductive, Cohen's deep voice rarely moves beyond a low rumble, his whispers rolling like fog over the cobblestoned streets of Paris, most notably in the sparse, European flair of "Amen." Consistent with the theme of healing and return, Cohen touches on nearly every turn of his career: the complicated hymnal "Show Me the Place"; the speakeasy charm of "Anyhow" and Dixieland-brushed "Banjo"; and the acoustic "Crazy To Love You," which recalls the sensual nostalgia of his 1968 debut, Songs of Leonard Cohen. While he finds strength in patience and restraint, highlight "Darkness" breaks the mold, Southern blues in disguise. Backed by the Unified Heart Touring Band, led by local musical director and bassist Roscoe Beck, Neil Larsen's rolling keys, and paired with the Webb Sisters' swaying backing vocals, a spurned Cohen dances with the devil like Bob Dylan in Together Through Life, conceding: "I ain't had much loving yet/But that's always been your call/Hey I don't miss it baby/I got no taste for anything at all." All told, Old Ideas might be Cohen's strongest effort since taking Manhattan.