Leonard Cohen

Fri, Jan 27, 2012, 00:00

CD CHOICE:Old Ideas Columbia****

He’s a bit of a card, that Leonard Cohen. On Going Home, the opening track of his first studio album in eight years, Cohen has God (or is it his alter ego?) lay it on the line:

“I love to speak with Leonard/He’s a sportsman and a shepherd/He’s a lazy bastard/ Living in a suit/But he does say what I tell him/Even though it isn’t welcome/He will never have the freedom/To refuse/He will speak these words of wisdom/Like a sage, a man of vision/Though he knows he’s really nothing/But the brief elaboration of a tube.”

Cohen whispers this in his heavy-lidded drawl with what must be a smile on his face as a light-trotting rhythm pulses behind the hypnotic, hymnic melody before the inevitable female chorus sings his valediction: “Going home/ Without my sorrow/Going home/Sometime tomorrow/To where it’s better/Than before/Going home/Without my burden/Going home/Behind the curtain/Going home/ Without the costume/That I wore.”

It is a life distilled in three minutes 40-odd seconds. There is no time left “to write a love song/an anthem of forgiving/A manual for living with defeat” before Cohen goes home on his final journey.

At 77, it’s not surprising that Leonard Cohen is looking over the hill, even if this collection of 10 songs (his 12th studio album) proves conclusively that he’s not past his sell-by date. The music is lounge- meets-gospel-meets-Eastern European gypsy, and his voice is mixed up so high that everybody else involved seems to be in another room. Yet it works, and the more you play it the better it gets.

This is a man at ease with his legend, with his self, curating in rich, evocative language the dark corners of a luminous public life, which at times was a private hell. The themes are as ever: belief, love, regret, depression, compassion and forgiveness, and songs such as Amen, Show Me the Place, Crazy to Love You, Come Healingand Different Sidesare swathed in meaning.

The album was produced by Patrick Leonard, Anjani Thomas (Cohen’s partner), Ed Sanders and Dino Soldo, and features guest vocalists Dana Glover, key figure Sharon Robinson, The Webb Sisters (Hattie and Charley) and old sidekick Jennifer Warnes. It’s a delight. Some old guys just never lose it. leonard cohenfiles.com

Download tracks: Going Home, Crazy to Love You, Different Sides