Old Ideas by Leonard Cohen

6 Feb

A new collection of Leonard Cohen songs is a rare event, and Old Ideas, which recycles some familiar themes from the archive, does not disappoint. Throughout Cohen speaks or intones, in his trademark gravelese, not really venturing to follow a tune anymore. Not surprisingly there is a weariness here at times – the guy is 77, after all – reflected in a handwritten scribble in the liner notes: ‘coming to the end of the book / but not quite yet / maybe when we reach the bottom.’ Whether or not this is the last recording by the Magus of Montreal, it has certainly been worth the wait.

If you come to this album expecting all the songs to be of the very highest quality you will be disappointed: they are uneven and the overriding effect is of mood music, Cohen-style, but there are three or four beauties. My favourites are tracks two and three, Amen and Show me the place, in which the singer enacts the role of slave in some religio-sexual psychodrama of the kind we have come to associate almost uniquely with the work of Leonard Cohen. There are also some wonderful, ironic self-references, beginning with the opening lines of the opening song: ‘I love to speak with Leonard / he’s a sportsman and a shepherd’.

‘Amen’ has a familiarity to it, one of those songs you feel you’ve heard before, a song that has always been around . . . I can’t make out whether it is because it bears an uncanny resemblance to a previous Cohen song, and therefore the circling melody and the slow-riding rhythm are so familiar, or simply, as so often with this writer, there is something archetypal in the song itself, as though Cohen were singing from the very bowels of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, brimming over with guilt or nostalgia for things that may or may not have happened. The lyrics alone barely do justice to the slowly churning melody, but I will copy them anyway, and follow it with a clip (unfortunately not from a live performance):

 

Tell me again

When I’ve been to the river

And I’ve taken the edge off my thirst

Tell me again

When we’re alone and I’m listening

I’m listening so hard that it hurts

Tell me again

When I’m clean and I’m sober

Tell me again

When I’ve seen through the horror

Tell me again

Tell me over and over

Tell me that you want me then

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Response to “Old Ideas by Leonard Cohen”

  1. ines garland February 7, 2012 at 17:46 #

    Otro enfermo de infinito, este Cohen.
    Yes, V.M makes me want to write. You too. And yes, it is the best gift a writer can give to another writer. So you’re almost done with Gianuzzi’s traslation. What a gift for those who will be able to read
    him now.

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