Leonard Cohen – “Old Ideas”

by Cuyler Mortimore

Leonard Cohen - a mega talent with a voice that sounds like hot chocolate with a plate of cookies - crunchy cookies. A casual glance at any Cohen bio page shows he’s won more than thirty different awards for his writing and music, including Companion of The Order of Canada, Canada’s highest orders for civilians. Yes, he’s Canadian, but you probably knew that. Even when he’s throwing your world into existential doubt (as well as a lot of heartache), you can’t help but be comforted by his smooth timber.

The opening words of his new album, Old Ideas share, “I love to speak with Leonard.” The song, "Going Home," is a monologue about Leonard from the perspective of an unknown “I.” This third person likes Leonard, despite the fact that he’s a “lazy bastard / Living in a suit.” Is the narrator God? Is it music itself? Or is it the listener saying he likes to listen to Leonard, even if he shouldn’t?

“Darkness,” “Anyhow,” and “Crazy to Love You” form a triptych of love gone wrong, with "Darkness" being that first stage of a breakup, denying she was ever any good for you, but dressed up in a catchy, bluesy, gospel rhythm. “Anyhow” depicts the period you think you’ve lost the best thing that ever happened to you, and now you want to bargain that relationship back. “Crazy to Love You” shares the reluctant acceptance when you simply have to let go. Breakups are hard - “Drinking from your cup / I caught the darkness” ("Darkness") - but that hot chocolate voice can’t help but keep you soothed.

The album closes on a snappy song, “Different Sides,” which has a meaty, thumpy, bassline, as well as some deft piano playing. The song is about a war, or a conflict, drawn between two sides. In a way, it harkens back to the opening of the album with an invisible narrator. This one talks about about finding “ourselves on different sides / Of a line that nobody drew.” Throughout the song is the refrain “Both of us say there are laws to obey.” This cosmic imagery builds to a head, but instead of a battle between heaven and hell, we get “You want to change the way I make love / I want to leave it alone.” Perhaps not all things are as they seem in the world, and maybe the biggest conflicts are akin to our most domestic disputes.

The whole album invites such dissection, and as such you must, must, MUST, pay attention to the lyrics, as with all albums, but especially this one. The music is good, but it’s almost a hollow experience if the emphasis isn’t placed on the words.