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Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas


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#21 Josh Hurst

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Posted 26 January 2012 - 04:43 PM

To find an album that fetishizes death quite the way this one does, you'd have to go back to... some of the Johnny Cash American recordings, maybe?

Or, I guess, last year's Glenn Campbell farewell.

#22 Andy Whitman

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Posted 26 January 2012 - 05:15 PM

To find an album that fetishizes death quite the way this one does, you'd have to go back to... some of the Johnny Cash American recordings, maybe?

Or, I guess, last year's Glenn Campbell farewell.

Well, Leonard is 77 years old. At a certain point, "I wanna rock 'n roll all night and party every day" just doesn't cut it anymore. It's what's on his mind.

#23 Josh Hurst

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Posted 26 January 2012 - 05:27 PM

I did not necessarily mean it as a criticism-- and if, once I've spent more time with the album, I were to have a criticism, it would be with the way the topic is addressed, not with the fact that the topic is so central. The "it's on his mind" argument is perfectly convincing to me. :)

#24 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 26 January 2012 - 06:51 PM

Andy Whitman wrote:
: Well, Leonard is 77 years old. At a certain point, "I wanna rock 'n roll all night and party every day" just doesn't cut it anymore.

Hmmm. Gene Simmons turns 63 this year. What songs does HE sing these days, I wonder. :)

#25 Tyler

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Posted 26 January 2012 - 07:01 PM

To find an album that fetishizes death quite the way this one does, you'd have to go back to... some of the Johnny Cash American recordings, maybe?

Or, I guess, last year's Glenn Campbell farewell.


Warren Zevon's The Wind (recorded after he learned he had terminal cancer) is about death, though I'm not sure it fetishizes it.

#26 Overstreet

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Posted 26 January 2012 - 07:19 PM

And Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind spends most of its time on that subject, in one way or another.

#27 Andy Whitman

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Posted 26 January 2012 - 07:49 PM


To find an album that fetishizes death quite the way this one does, you'd have to go back to... some of the Johnny Cash American recordings, maybe?

Or, I guess, last year's Glenn Campbell farewell.


Warren Zevon's The Wind (recorded after he learned he had terminal cancer) is about death, though I'm not sure it fetishizes it.

A lot of my favorite albums are about death, either the impending death of the artist or a recent death of a loved one. They don't go over particularly well at fratboy keggers, but they tend to cut through the usual BS and address issues that actually matter. I can think of a few great ones in the past ten years -- Zevon's The Wind, certainly, but also Eels' Electro-Shock Blues, Richard Youngs' Sapphie, The Antlers' Hospice, Daniel Johnston's Songs of Pain, A Silver Mount Zion's He Has Left Us Alone, But Sometimes Shafts of Light Grace the Corner of Our Rooms, to some extent Arcade Fire's Funeral. Oh, and Leonard Cohen's Old Ideas, too. There are some classic older albums as well -- Jackson Browne's Late for the Sky, Lou Reed's Magic and Loss, Neil Young's Tonight's the Night, John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band. If all this morbidity gets you down, you can always get your spirits up with a whole batch of Teen Death songs from the late '50s and early '60s. My favorite is Dickie Lee, who specialized in this genre. You haven't lived (or died) until you've heard "Laura," the classic tale of the tragically taken teen who rises from her grave to attend the prom, and then politely leaves the jacket she has borrowed on her gravestone.

Edited by Andy Whitman, 26 January 2012 - 07:51 PM.


#28 J. Henry Waugh

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Posted 26 January 2012 - 09:26 PM

A few more death-pondering albums off the top of my head: Automatic for the People (sorta), A Briefing for the Ascent, Regard the End, much of Real Men Cry, and--my favorite--So Near, So Far.

#29 Josh Hurst

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Posted 27 January 2012 - 09:16 PM

I give Slant kudos for this thoughtful pan of an album that will, I suspect, not be panned by many. Check this:

...Cohen sounds so resigned, which is bad, since lukewarm emotion isn't great for music, and it's certainly not great for Cohen, whose best work has always been either nasty, wistful, or depressed—in short, motivated by exclusively powerful emotions. The songs here are wishy washy and dull in comparison. "Darkness," with its minor-chord guitar-picking and jazzy piano, is pure schlock—not the odd, knowing variety, which made an old track like "Jazz Police" into such a boffo masterpiece, but schlock of a far more ordinary variety.

The music matches this sentiment throughout, crawling along in uninspired dirges which drag down the words, rather than elevating them. There are exceptions, of course, usually courtesy of songs where the backing remains minimal and locks up with the tone of the lyrics. "Show Me the Place" takes Cohen's increasingly gravelly rasp in a slightly more dynamic direction, sounding like Tom Waits if he suddenly found religion. "Different Sides" is strangely springy and propulsive, with a pulsing electric organ and the kind of sly nastiness that's absent from too many of the other songs.

By this point, it's become completely evident that Cohen shouldn't be allowed into the studio with female backing, a crutch he's insistently reliant on, and which invariably adds a cloying element to his otherwise professional demeanor. The voices that accompany him here are by turns syrupy and overwrought, and they work less to melt the icy tenor of the singer's voice than to soften the tracks into complete mush.



#30 Andy Whitman

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 09:07 AM

I give Slant kudos for this thoughtful pan of an album that will, I suspect, not be panned by many. Check this:

...Cohen sounds so resigned, which is bad, since lukewarm emotion isn't great for music, and it's certainly not great for Cohen, whose best work has always been either nasty, wistful, or depressed—in short, motivated by exclusively powerful emotions. The songs here are wishy washy and dull in comparison. "Darkness," with its minor-chord guitar-picking and jazzy piano, is pure schlock—not the odd, knowing variety, which made an old track like "Jazz Police" into such a boffo masterpiece, but schlock of a far more ordinary variety.

The music matches this sentiment throughout, crawling along in uninspired dirges which drag down the words, rather than elevating them. There are exceptions, of course, usually courtesy of songs where the backing remains minimal and locks up with the tone of the lyrics. "Show Me the Place" takes Cohen's increasingly gravelly rasp in a slightly more dynamic direction, sounding like Tom Waits if he suddenly found religion. "Different Sides" is strangely springy and propulsive, with a pulsing electric organ and the kind of sly nastiness that's absent from too many of the other songs.

By this point, it's become completely evident that Cohen shouldn't be allowed into the studio with female backing, a crutch he's insistently reliant on, and which invariably adds a cloying element to his otherwise professional demeanor. The voices that accompany him here are by turns syrupy and overwrought, and they work less to melt the icy tenor of the singer's voice than to soften the tracks into complete mush.

That's all true enough, I think. It's also somewhat irrelevant. The fact is that death is inevitable, and one can approach that in one of two ways: raging against the dying of the light, or accepting the inevitable with a modicum of grace and resignation. The fact that Cohen chooses the latter approach isn't a failure, in my opinion, and I actually find it refreshing to hear songwriting of this caliber wrestling with the inevitability of one's approaching demise. The only albums I've heard that have taken a similar approach are Johnny Cash's American Recordings, and in many ways I prefer Cohen's because he doesn't bring the same mythological baggage to the proceedings. This is a clear-eyed, rueful, poetic, and frequently funny look at the Grim Reaper, and, as such, I think it's going to be easily one of the best albums of the year.

Re: the female backing vocalists, Leonard Cohen can't sing. Somebody has to carry the melody. He's never really been able to sing, but now age has ravaged what was always the most limited of instruments. Leonard declaims; the singers provide some semblance of a musical foundation for what would otherwise be spoken-word poetry. It is a bit of a contrived and tacky approach, but it's at least tackiness with which you can hum along.

#31 Overstreet

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 11:16 AM

I long ago quit hoping for some kind of musical masterpiece from Cohen. He's a poet. I think he's completely aware of what he's doing. It's almost like he's singing karaoke to cheap karaoke instrumentation. I don't mind that at all. The focus is the mantra-like lyrics (they've always been mantra-like with Cohen). If they're good, they'll be performed by much better singers and musicians than he. And a voice like his backed by some kind of amazing rock or jazz band would end up sounding like a case of a singer whose band tries to make up for his weaknesses.

I go to Cohen's albums like I go to books of poetry. I enjoy his voice. I love his melodies. And I love his self-effacing humor.

This album blew me away.

#32 Andy Whitman

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Posted 30 January 2012 - 08:57 AM

“Remembering that I will be dead soon is the most important tool that I have ever encountered in making the big choices in life. Almost everything – all expectations, all pride, all fear of failing - all of this falls away in the face of death."
-- Steve Jobs

I would say that this is also the philosophy that drives every song on Old Ideas.

#33 Overstreet

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Posted 31 January 2012 - 01:26 PM

Thom Jurek's review at All Music

Old Ideas is a very good Cohen album; it may be great, but only time reveals that when it comes to his work. The lone certainty is it bears listening to, over and over (and over) again.



#34 Overstreet

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Posted 31 January 2012 - 01:59 PM

And now Andy Whitman's review is up at CT.

"As I grew older," Cohen explained about the creation of Old Ideas, "I understood that instructions came with this voice, my voice. And the instructions were these: never to lament casually. And if one is to express the great inevitable defeat that awaits us all, it must be done within the strict confines of dignity and beauty."

Mission accomplished. To be fair, some listeners will struggle with the parched ruin that now passes for Cohen's singing voice. No matter. Like Johnny Cash's American Recordings, sometimes the ravaged, world-weary voice is the best possible voice to communicate deep and abiding questions and truths. Old Ideas is an album that sums up Cohen's considerable strengths. God willing, it won't be his last. But if it is, Cohen has graced us with a masterful final word; a rueful, profound, and poetic meditation on love, impending loss, and the transcendent hope that bestrides the gap.


Edited by Overstreet, 31 January 2012 - 01:59 PM.


#35 Josh Hurst

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Posted 01 February 2012 - 08:15 AM

A certain Milk Carton Kid is less than enthused:

...while I’d like to give old LC any benefit of doubt I could afford, his sheer ignorance to production lies quiescent awaiting the final nail in the coffin. From cheesy chord changes to resting firmly on the tropes of the Cohen catalogue-past… From a blatant disregard for melody to the employ of computerized solo violin samples– this may be one of the most poorly produced records I’ve heard in the last decade. As if Leonard Cohen decided, finally, it was time for some new material and proceeded to tear apart purposefully closed notebooks for material. Then he may have asked his 13 year old nephew to write and record all of the music so that uncle Leonard could show up one afternoon to phone it in.

...

This latest from Leonard Cohen, however, is an embarrassing misstep. A misstep that seems as unforgivable as it was necessary. A misstep that stains the great and important legacy built by one of our truest contemporary poetic greats. I’m embarrassed and appalled.



#36 Tyler

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 12:33 PM

Old Ideas with New Friends is a series of Cohen covers that has featured Bradford Cox, Cults, Greg Dulli (Afghan Wigs), Cold War Kids, and The Mountain Goats.

No "Hallelujah" covers yet, though the series isn't finished yet.

#37 Josh Hurst

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Posted 10 February 2012 - 09:28 AM

Erlewine weighs in:

His allegiance always was to the words and during the golden age of the major labels he was surrounded by big-league producers—Bob Johnston, Phil Spector—that gave him warmth even when the setting was spare but as studio musicians were swapped for synths sometimes in the ‘80s, the balance became lopsided and his productions wound up insouciant. On Old Ideas, this indifference is almost charming and it’s all due to his age; the cheap cleanliness isn’t there for expedience or laziness, it’s the suit that fits him best. Unlike, say, Dylan who thrives upon mess and spontaneity, Cohen is orderly: every word has its place, with every sound supporting the word. Grooves and grit are not for him, these pristine instrumentations are his milieu for they do not distract from Cohen’s fathomless groan. Bearing considerable signs of the erosion of age, this weathering adds resonance to the text in a way the transparent arrangements do not and considering the gravity of the songs, this sign of life is needed.



#38 Andy Whitman

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Posted 10 February 2012 - 10:00 AM

Erlewine weighs in:

His allegiance always was to the words and during the golden age of the major labels he was surrounded by big-league producers—Bob Johnston, Phil Spector—that gave him warmth even when the setting was spare but as studio musicians were swapped for synths sometimes in the ‘80s, the balance became lopsided and his productions wound up insouciant. On Old Ideas, this indifference is almost charming and it’s all due to his age; the cheap cleanliness isn’t there for expedience or laziness, it’s the suit that fits him best. Unlike, say, Dylan who thrives upon mess and spontaneity, Cohen is orderly: every word has its place, with every sound supporting the word. Grooves and grit are not for him, these pristine instrumentations are his milieu for they do not distract from Cohen’s fathomless groan. Bearing considerable signs of the erosion of age, this weathering adds resonance to the text in a way the transparent arrangements do not and considering the gravity of the songs, this sign of life is needed.

Yes. Exactly right.

#39 Josh Hurst

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Posted 10 February 2012 - 10:24 AM

The funny thing is that I agree with Tom's description of the album-- there is nothing in that paragraph I quoted that I would quibble with-- yet I do not agree with the overall assessment. Which is how I've responded to most of the review I've read: "Yes, this IS what the album sounds like... but no, I don't think that's a good thing!"

Not trying to be argumentative, mind you; I just mean to say that the release of this album has proven instructive for me, illuminating as to the different expectations that people bring to a record (to a Leonard Cohen record in particular, perhaps).

#40 winter shaker

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 12:01 PM

I just listened to "Come Healing" for the first time last night. Blew me away. My favourite song off of Old Ideas.