Leonard Cohen's new Old Ideas: pure distilled Cohen, the apotheosis of gravelly poetry

Old Ideas is Leonard Cohen's new album, officially released today. I bought it yesterday from the Amazon MP3 store, and I've been listening to nothing else, ever since. I'm a big Leonard Cohen fan, and it seems to me that this album represents a kind of distilled essence of Cohen, like a martial arts form conducted by a wizened master who reduces each movement to its sparest, most essential gesture.

Cohen's voice is so whiskey-gravelley here that he goes all the way through Tom Waits at times and enters Isaac Hayes territory, challenging the woofer under my desk. He's given up nearly any pretense of singing, and the best word for what he does on Old Ideas is "reciting," and this low-down-dirty spoken word is backed with pure and angelic female singers, which evokes Jennifer Warnes's classic disc of Cohen covers, Famous Blue Raincoat. The instrumentation is a bit of country, a bit of jazz, and stripped down to essentials: brushed cymbals, muted horns, a hint of klezmer clarinet.

The lyrics are as deceptively simple as the rest, at first blush just more of the Cohen we know and love, but the more I listen to them, the more I find myself falling into them. You can read the full lyrics here, and NPR is streaming the whole album here.

Old Ideas


  1. It’s such a lovely pleasure to see the entire album streaming free and legal on the day of release; Mr. Cohen is a wise man. I must insist everyone take a weekend or two to read his novels (Beautiful Losers and The Favourite Game). They’re quick reads but they’ll stay with you for a long time. It’s almost ritual for me to read through Beautiful Losers on any journey into Canada.

  2. You should listen to Cohen as if it were cowboy music, with the drawl and the twangy guitar.  Really.

    It’s his suggestion.

    /former Montrealer. 

  3. I studied tea ceremony, but I never got it until I saw an old monk do it casually. I’ll listen to this while I’m going to sleep.

    What I’m listening to on rotate is a track which BB put up but I hadn’t bothered to play just now, Sun God by Squirrel Bait. Realized I had this on a Homestead compilation called the Wailing Ultimate many years ago. Belated thanks.

  4. that’s great but if you’re going to buy this music get it from Leonard Cohen’s site, not Amazon, http://www.myplaydirect.com/leonard-cohen/old-ideas/details/26569146?cid=lg:eht&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=leonardcohen.com&utm_content=discog
    Same goes for any music or books you buy, try to get them direct from the producer if you can cos amazon and itunes will just take a big cut away from the artist.

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