Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas Review

Leonard CohenLove in Leonard Cohen’s music has always been complicated and brutal–you get entangled, but it can be glorious, in the way the song “Hallelujah” is glorious. The song has been remade so many times one would think there was a sacred chord after all.

That tea and those oranges came all the way from China and who was that Suzanne woman? Does it matter? First we take Manhattan and then? There’s a crack in everything… that’s how the light gets in. His clever lyrics have a resonance that isn’t often found in popular music.

Cohen’s music is still haunting and magical, and his latest album, Old Ideas is a mature album that does reflect his “old” themes of religion, love, and sacrifice. The personas change like chameleons, but Cohen is a master of shape shifting ideas, and his music draws you in..

In Going Home, he self-deprecatingly jokes about himself as a “lazy bastard living in a suit.” Don’t believe it–Cohen is nothing of the sort as he begins yet another tour of North America. The humour and wit are still there, but this is a cool and sombre song of returning back home, or is it making peace with something larger?

Show me the place is replete with religious imagery in the voice of a slave: “rolling away the stone,” showing the place “where the suffering began,” and “where the word became a man.” It is a brilliant song of tenderness and redemption, asking for help even in a place of subservience.

Darkness brings back Cohen’s signature guitar playing in the beginning, and it is this bluesy song that laments catching the “darkness.” The metaphors are brilliant–love becomes a sickness or is it depression? Death is near as he laments: “I got no future/ I know my days are few…I caught the darkness baby, and I got it worse than you.” Of course, in a relationship, it takes two to tango, but in the song he “caught the darkness/ it was drinking from your cup/ I said ‘is this contagious’/ you said just drink it up.” In love you might just get more than you bargained for. It’s all about the fallout.

Crazy to love you, suggests the obligatory madness that is love: “Had to go crazy to love you/ had to let everything fall/ had to be people I hated /had to be no one at all” The common love song theme (Crazy, Crazy for you, Crazy in love, etc.) takes on a different dimension–the darkness again that requires obligatory madness to function. The voice of experience resonates: “I’m tired of choosing desire/ I’ve been saved by a blessed fatigue,” which is a Buddhist peace-offering. Instead of the familiar theme, it laments the shift to madness that love entails, but also peace in getting beyond that space.

Come Healing is a hymn of reconciliation that Cohen cleverly sets up as a match to Darkness as a prayer asking for forgiveness. “O summer tune of longing/ where love has been confined/ come healing of the body/ come healing of the mind/ o see the darkness yielding/ that tore the light apart/ come healing of the reason/ come healing of the heart.” We could all use some healing.

All in all, it’s clear that Leonard is making peace with his past personas and attempting to reconcile with religion, sexual tension, and poetry that is the lifeblood flowing through his music. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas makes a welcome house guest.

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