Album Review: Leonard Cohen ‘Old Ideas’

It has been eight years since Leonard Cohen’s previous album, and 45 years since his first release back in 1967. In all of that time not a whole lot has changed for the herald of hardship, and Old Ideas sounds a lot like Songs of Leonard Cohen, apart from a voice deepened by age. The expectation here is not so much musical innovation as it is a chance to catch up with an old friend and see what he has to say.

The opener, “Going Home,” begins with the words “I love to speak with Leonard.” While Cohen himself appears to be giving voice to the word of God, insisting that he is but a humble messenger, the sentiment suits his fans just as well. In either case it’s a one-way conversation, and many would value Leonard’s opinion above that of any deity.

Wherever Cohen gets his material–be it cribbed from a place on high, or hard-earned through his own experiences–he remains a man with many a profound word on suffering. The songs on Old Ideas speak of death as much as love, but even the love songs are put into the past tense. Leonard Cohen has always been an extremely introspective man, but it’s different here, and he makes no bones about the reason why. He speaks very openly about the end of his life drawing near. “I ain’t got no future. I know my days are few,” he says on Darkness, “I thought the past would last me, but the darkness got that too.”

Which is not to say that it’s a depressing album by an old guy lamenting lost time. He doesn’t seem to have a great many regrets about the past–no more than usual–or a want to do it all over, he’s just open about the fact that he is in the final phase of his life. He’s not done living, as evidenced by the playful attitude on “Anyhow,” but he’s aware that he may be on the next train out of here.

Old though he may be, when you are Leonard Cohen you don’t really have to worry about aging gracefully. He started his career with the mind and the maturity of an 80-year-old man, and considering that, he’s still not even reached his peak at just 77. Even his voice, now very deep, may only better suit his sexy, dark music.

The album seems somewhat dated musically, but that is neither unexpected nor a particularly bad thing. Organ solos still have their place in our sonic lexicon, and coming from an older bloke the sounds of another era fit in very well.

The music is all quite safe and predictable, but again, you are probably not going to this guy for a fresh new sound, but a perspective. Let me say though that Old Ideas is at least a good record on the merits of its musical prowess, and by and large, Leonard Cohen’s sound is as timeless as his poetry–even if not particularly innovative at this stage.

The title Old Ideas seems to have a number of potential meanings. It could be a tongue-in-cheek joke about Leonard’s age. It could simply be that some of these songs have been kicking around a while, and he wanted to get around to recording them. It may also be about the subject matter, as he looks back on a long life full of love and loss.

It’s definitely not an album to be overlooked, as many releases from living legends can unfortunately be. He hasn’t lost a thing to age, but remarkably, he has gained quite a lot. What’s more, he’s not done sharing his wisdom with the world, and hopefully there is more to come.