Album: Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas


Andy Gill
Friday 20 January 2012 01:00

It's difficult, albeit a little ill-mannered, not to regard Old Ideas as possibly Leonard Cohen's final recorded testament. There's a distinct valedictory tone to his customary musings upon life, love and the spirit, with one track titled "Amen" and another "The Darkness". But if it is to be his last communiqué, at least the old smoothie's going down swinging.

"The Darkness" is brutally frank, Cohen opening with the assessment, "I've got no future, I know my days are few," before digging even deeper: "I thought the past would last me, but the darkness got that too". With organ and subdued slide guitar shadowing his acoustic guitar, it has the weathered, implacable tone of a late-period Dylan confrontation with the inevitable, though it's far from the bitterest piece here. That honour goes to "Amen", which starts out like a straightforward love song, with the recurrent refrain "Tell me that you love me, amen" crooned over an arrangement in which wry banjo, poignant viola and organ are joined by some of Cohen's trademark cooing angels. But as it proceeds, the insistent demands to "tell me again" grow darker, and his tongue sharper, to the point where he's singing of "the filth of the butcher" being "washed in the blood of the lamb", hardly the most romantic of sentiments for an intimate evening. "Tell me again when the victims are singing, and the laws of remorse are restored," groans Cohen, and it becomes clear that these are the Old Ideas to which he's referring: the forgotten verities of ethical certainty, love and human fellowship abandoned en route to our quick-fix, instant-gratification future.

The higher concerns are continued in "Come Healing", whose hymnal tone reflects a desire for both physical and spiritual healing: "Come healing of the reason, come healing of the heart". It's an obvious heir of sorts to "Hallelujah", although given that that song was as much about waning potency as anything, a more apt successor may be "Show Me The Place", a heartfelt plea for the restoration of desire: "Show me the place I've forgotten I don't know". Likewise, in "Crazy to Love You", Cohen admits to the wearisome duty of love: "I'm tired of chasing desire, I'm saved by a blessed fatigue."

Elsewhere, he deals with the deterioration of relationships in the slow blues "Anyhow" and the softly pulsing "Different Side", and offers a straightforward "Lullaby" in which wistful harmonica and undulating guitar evoke the steady breathing of a deep sleeper. But the most enjoyable track here is the opener "Going Home", in which he complains of having to occupy the costume of Leonard Cohen the poet, ladies man and public figure. "I love to speak with Leonard, he's a sportsman and a shepherd, he's a lazy bastard living in a suit," admits the inner Cohen, damning his public self with faint praise – "he's nothing but a brief elaboration of a tune" – and concluding with a heartfelt yearning to escape the burden of this bothersome persona. Which is about as valedictory as it gets.

DOWNLOAD THIS Going Home; Amen; Show Me The Place; The Darkness

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