Leonard Cohen faces mortality in ‘Old Ideas’

Posted on February 03, 2012 in Album Reviews
By Ryan Cutler

Sony Records

Leonard Cohen used to think he “was some kind of gypsy boy,” traveling those spaces between his heart and his soul on his long voyage through romantic and spiritual strife. Now at 77-years-old, the Canadian singer-songwriter is preparing for his final journey at the end of life with his latest album Old Ideas.

Old Ideas reflects elements from Cohen’s whole career, combining the stripped-down folk guitar of his early work, such as the famous ode “Suzanne,” to the jazz and pop orchestral styling of his 1984 release Various Positions. From the perspective of his old age, Cohen’s twelfth studio release deals with the theme of penitence of the heart and spirit that can be found throughout his catalog.

The fatigue of his old age is revealed by the slow pacing of the album’s 10 songs but the sharpness of his poetry and yearning of his delivery is still just as beautiful and moving as any of his previous releases. In “Come Healing,” a choir of female voices prepares for Cohen’s vocal arrival at the chorus: “And let the heavens hear it/The penitential hymn/Come healing of the spirit/Come healing of the limb.” The choir are Cohen’s guardian angels for what may be his final ritual along his path of redemption and self-reflection; here Cohen’s wish to be redeemed is at its clearest.

Melancholic piano and slowly bowed violins create a tired, desperate atmosphere in “Show Me The Place” as Cohen croons: “Show me the place/where you want your slave to go/Show me the place/I’ve forgotten, I don’t know/ Show me the place/ For my head is bend and low.” With rasping whispers, moving towards the cigarette and whiskey-torn throat of Tom Waits, the troubadour seeks guidance to the end of his days from his lover or the spiritual being to whom he is a slave.

While still producing albums at a fragile age, Cohen is getting towards the end of his days as a saint of poetry and pop music, bringing a sense of closure to both his life and career. From a merciful god and love to “a broken banjo bobbin’ on the dark infested sea,” Old Ideas offers more than a new collection of songs from this old soul: a means to feel secure in the thought that in old age we will all find our place.