Old Ideas is Leonard Cohen’s first album in eight years, and it is exactly that: a pack of old ideas, the same that have accompanied him his whole life. Cohen is one of the last legendary geniuses, a troubadour who has always been writing and singing about his holy trinity: religion, love and creation.
The album opens with a celestial melody, the awakening of a new day. It’s Going Home, in which God himself says he loves to speak with Leonard, a shepherd living in a suit. God explains how he usually talks through the voice of that Leonard, who is nothing but his messenger. Leonard will speak like a sage, but he is really nothing, only a mere lazy body that repeats what God has told him to repeat.
The fourth day, the boy didn’t appear. He had committed suicide.
On his inspiring acceptance speech of the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature 2011, Leonard Cohen explained that he felt like a charlatan to accept an award for an activity which he doesn’t command. He doesn’t know where poetry or good songs come from. They are simply delivered to him, somehow. As he remarked, poetry comes from a place that no one commands, that no one conquers.
In Going Home, Cohen relates the magic of his music; how the gods and muses possess him and talk through him (he was actually ordained a Buddhist monk in 1996). The song’s spiritual meaning is crowned by the next track: a long Amen. In the melancholic Show Me the Place Cohen seems to surrender again to the will of God and asks him to show him the place to go. Cohen begs with the broken voice of a devoted slave, close to Tom Waits’ gloomy blues. In the early sixties, Leonard Cohen was a respected writer and poet, admirer of the English poets and, especially, of Spaniard Federico García Lorca. But he had not found his music yet. One day, he met a Spanish boy who was playing guitar on the street. Cohen asked him to teach him and for the next three days the man taught Cohen to play a six chord progression. The fourth day, the boy didn’t appear. He had committed suicide. Cohen was left only with those six chords, but his teacher had already planted the seed of Cohen’s music. That simple guitar pattern has been the basis of all his songs. The minimalism of his music has always been complemented by the poetry of his intricate lyrics.
…a sober writing style, escaping from his bigger and more visual compositions…
In Old Ideas Leonard Cohen recites words of wisdom with serenity once again. The music remains bittersweet through the album, with modest arrangements that transmit an immediate spiritual peace. Only a piano, a violin, a banjo, a guitar or a female choir (the angels from the Great Beyond) support Cohen’s deep voice. He uses a sober writing style, escaping from his bigger and more visual compositions, such as Hallelujah or Suzanne.
Old Ideas may sound as a goodbye album, like old Cohen is finally leaving his costume, his burden, to go home and enter The Darkness. Maybe Leonard Cohen will retire to his Tower of Song, but if the gods ever ask him for help again he won’t be able to refuse. Because he was born like this, he had no choice; he was born with the gift of a golden voice.