From the sickening psych folk of Simon Finn to the widened soul/jazz political lyricism of of Gil Scott-Heron, Leonard Cohen has always found his place among folk's most obscure artists (not to mention his position at the top of the singer-songwriter pole). The man that once gave us 'Suzanne' and 'Avalanche', not forgetting the unbelievably covered song, 'Hallelujah', returns with his 12th studio album. it's been eight years since 'Dear Heather' was released in 2004, but has his lifelong experiences filled 'Old Ideas'?
With age comes wisdom and with wisdom comes grey hair, trench coats and monotonous vocals. Leonard Cohen falls under that category which Bob Dylan has ticked for the past 10 years. Johnny Cash ended his recording discography with some of his more melodic and illustrious albums. Leonard Cohen has now become 'old'. At 77, this man has lived through wars and spoken then words of opinion through poetic lyrics. The late 60's brought ingenious albums such as 'Songs of Leonard Cohen' and ' Songs From A Room'. it's just a shame his later career has flumped almost predictably. Over 40 years on since these Folk glories were released and we hear Cohen's most 'Jewish' album. The simplistic instrumentation returns and the guest gospel-esque supporting vocals return to add that extra bit of vocal skill beyond Cohen's deep and ordinary voice.
The opener is called 'Going Home' and it sounds like Gil Scott-Heron mixed with Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens). His aged vocals are instantly recognisable as the upright bass takes it's direction with the light percussion and heavily edited keyboards. The vocals are shadowed by the simplicity of the instrumental. His lyrics are mediocre at best on this song, but his imagery shines through as always, "He will speak these words of wisdom like a sage, a man of vision. Though he knows he’s really nothing, but the brief elaboration of a tube".
Ten minutes in and I'm feeling that sense of similarity. The seven minute 'Amen' has the exact same instrumentation as Going Home, just with some guitar added and some Banjo on the right hand side. The vocals follow the same pattern and the sparse instrumentation sound very calm. This long winded track does feature some lovely vocal harmony, but overall it's just a little bit too bland. 'Show Me The Place' sounds far more professional and melancholy than the previous tracks. The strings really add to Cohen's aged vocals and that feel of desperation kicks in as a man near to his death speaks the voice of his ancestors. The piano is fantastic and the general mood is far uplifting than the previous two tracks, this is where the album gets going.
'Darkness' has a monotonous vocal style with a respectable guitar riff which strikes it's way through the opening 30 seconds before Cohen's quiet vocals enter with the sparse instrumentation and Soulful feel. Nothing really grabs be here. it's the same with the spacious 'Anyhow' and even quieter 'Crazy To Love'. It's not a great sign when a man who's above the age of 70 is having to rely on production techniques and support vocals to draw the lack of skill away from his own vocals.
The following track called 'Come Healing' is far more melancholy. The supporting female vocals allow room for that keyboard to make an impact. This song sounds like something from a Toy Story movie. The delicious vocals give a romantic vision of the young female vocalists in a church singing with Leonard Cohen, in his suit. The mid section features Leonard's heartfelt vocals both gritty and desperate singing about the healing of the body. 'Banjo' has further gospel influences. With it's striking banjo on the left and the uplifting vocal work, Cohen can give his softer side and he does that perfectly.
Something out of the blue now... Leonard Cohen with an electronic beat. Yes, 'Lullaby' features some lovely right sided rising guitar and left sided harmonica, but in the background there is this simplistic and snare styled drum beat going on. This song is pretty simple and doesn't burst out into a wild jam or vocal harmonies. 'Different Sides' has a Gorillaz-esuqe feel. it has that one note arpeggio going through the middle with the funky beat. It's a decent closer but again does stretch boundaries and Cohen's vocal doesn't work with the childlike singing. Borderline paedophilia here to be quite honest...