“Old Ideas,” the first album made by Leonard Cohen since his induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, has shown that the old guy has still got it.
Age has treated him well. Unlike other old dogs of music putting out albums in their upper 70’s to prove they’re still alive, “Old Ideas” is adding something to Cohen’s legacy.
Cohen is often thought of as a songwriter first and singer second. His most popular song “Hallelujah” has been covered by countless artists, including Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright, in what could be seen as a way to make Cohen’s amazing lyrics more accessible for listeners. The difference with “Old Ideas,” then, is the way in which the focus is taken off Cohen’s words and overshadowed by his matured and raw voice.
That voice has gotten smokier, more mellow and less easy to spread, making lines crack in places while other lines vibrate with sound. It’s the same kind of deep talking, half-singing he’s been doing forever, but age has refined the style to give him a Johnny Cash-like quality of singing. It’s the bluntness and honesty of singing without pretense or auto-tone, saying “here’s my voice, like it or not.” And, oh, we like it.
The lyrics are essentially composites of old themes, or ‘old ideas’ Cohen’s already sung about—religion, love, where we fit into it all. They’re humbling, with Cohen calling himself lazy and filthy, refreshing to hear from a man who has made it in this world.
The Gospel-quality of the album does get tiring—almost every song is backed by a chorus of bright female voices that would work better on just a song or two, and some lyrics sound almost morbid coming from such an aged man.
“Old Ideas” isn’t going to be the album Cohen is remembered for, but that’s all right. Let no one say he went out without a bang.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars