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