Throughout his 45-year career, Leonard Cohen has walked a fine line between love, sex, and religion, often embodying the trinity in the same song. Cohen doesn't abandon those themes on his latest album, "Old Ideas," his first studio recording in eight years and perhaps one of his best in decades.
Part of the reason the record succeeds is the honesty that the 77-year singer-songwriter delivers as he questions mortality, god, and betrayal with poetic dignity.
In 2005, Cohen's former manager took the liberty of emptying his savings accounts, leaving the deep-throated troubadour nearly broke. And though the singer won a civil suit in 2006, it's not believed that he's collected any money back. As a result, Cohen has had to spend his retirement years on the road singing for his supper.
But out of this adversity comes an album rooted heavily in his signature prayer-like delivery with an air of aesthetic realism.
"Old Ideas" kicks off with "Going Home," a poem written by Cohen and set to music by Cohen and co-writer Patrick Leonard. Hearing Cohen's nearly-spoken voice delivery, it becomes a powerful ditty of Cohen's spiritual foundation as well as how he sees himself.
In the song, God says Cohen does what he tells him, even though it's not always welcome. This sets the tone for the remainder of album of a man tormented by mistakes of the past and his growing older.
Cohen has never been a stranger to religious overtones: After all, he's the man that wrote "Hallelujah," which became immortalized by the late Jeff Buckley.
But this album seems to provide more weighted spiritual balance. It's not religious, at least in any organized form, but it's definitely more pious than usual. One has to go no further than the record's second track "Amen," a lengthy ominous piece that seems diametric to "Hallelujah," where the singer questions if he's understood by god.
Minimal instrumentation helps support the album's 10 tracks, dominated by Cohen's raspy baritone delivery. While instrumentation varies from guitar to steel guitar and piano and bass, there's a nice compliment of percussive rhythms and background vocals.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: Even on first listen, the albums most upbeat track, "Banjo" (not saying much for the slow-paced album) plays as comfort food for the ears.