wed 29/05/2024

CD: Leonard Cohen - Popular Problems | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Leonard Cohen - Popular Problems

CD: Leonard Cohen - Popular Problems

As he nears 80, Leonard Cohen continues to shine, miraculously

High priest of rabbinical hip and consummate entertainer

Leonard Cohen has always been, first and foremost, a poet. His thoroughly grounded mix of Vedanta, Zen and Jewish mysticism places him in a class apart. He is both rabbinical high priest and consummate entertainer. As he’s never traded on borrowed African-American sex-and-swagger or matinée idol charisma, age hasn’t made him in any way ridiculous. He carries his gravitas lightly, not least because his deft way with words keeps us delicately poised between revelation and unknowing.

From the seductive drag of “Slow”, Cohen’s call to deceleration, to the redemptive Hallelujah call of  “You Got Me Singing” which closes the album with heart-warming serenity, Cohen takes us on a breathtaking cruise across the “mighty sea of sorrows”.  "You got me singing although the news is bad" he sings with a philosophical tone of resignation. There are potent allusions to the horrors of the Middle East in “Nevermind”, a spine-chilling but hypnotic song, but the sombre road he treads leads, paradoxically, to acceptance and even celebration. Cohen gets away with evoking sweetness and light because he never leaves humanity’s perennial murderous potential far behind.

The slow lilt of the blues, which fuelled so much of his previous album “Old Ideas” runs through the album as a potent leitmotiv, as if funky sensuality were the most fitting style for a man on the edge of his 80s. "Born in Chains", which apparently took Cohen 40 years to complete, is a kind of credo. The flight from Egypt is a metaphor for liberation and the song explores the unnamable power that lies beyond our understanding. His take on the Bible is both irreverent and respectful. Beyond the Old Testament references, there are echoes of the teachings he received in Bombay from his Vedanta teacher: "in the grip of sensual illusion", Cohen sings, "sweet unknowing unifies the name".

Cohen is brilliantly served, as he was on “Old Ideas”, by his Canadian collaborator Patrick Leonard, and the super-soulful counterpoint of his backing singers, a soothing feminine presence and chorus that provides a silver lining to the old man’s sometimes tortured introspection. He is perfectly served by the stripped-down sound of guitars and gently swirling Hammond organ, as well as discrete horn riffs and the occasional well-placed violin solo. This is profoundly rich music with a lack of adornment that allows for moments of great beauty and emotion.

His deft way with words keeps us delicately poised between revelation and unknowing.


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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