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CD Review

Leonard Cohen’s ‘Old Ideas’ feels fresh — and poignant

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Annie Zaleski

The Details

Leonard Cohen
Old Ideas
Four stars

The name of Leonard Cohen’s 12th studio album can be interpreted several ways. On one hand, Old Ideas feels like a deliberate (and sly) nod to his age, 77, and a winking acknowledgement that detractors might consider the album full of, well, just what the title implies. On the other, it’s an appropriately concise summation of the familiar tropes Cohen untangles on the album—themes as ornate as antique lace, as old-fashioned as a Victrola in a parlor.

In a voice that’s somehow more baritone than ever, Cohen details the bleak aftermath of a tryst (the sultry “Darkness,” a song with gentle blues licks), implores forgiveness from an ex by assuming a seductive tone (“Anyhow,” a mellow number boasting jazzy piano, organ and brushed percussion) and metaphorically underscores how music can wound (“Banjo,” with its fanciful horns and soulful female backing vocals). Other songs on Old Ideas touch on religion, mortality and romance using the same sort of genteel arrangements; if anything, the album feels like the natural extension of the lounge noir atmosphere and instrumentation of his recent world tour.

What makes Old Ideas even lovelier are the glimmers of optimism peeking through its grim air of finality. The latter tone has always permeated Cohen’s oeuvre, but the subtle uplift in the music—the playful, mysterious organ snaking through “Different Sides,” the wry implication in “Going Home” that Cohen’s writing is directed by some unseen power—gives the album a lovely sense of lightness. Poetic and poignant.

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