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Leonard Cohens' 'Popular problems'


Leonard Cohens' 'Popular problems'

Sean Wright


The problem with reviews of Leonard Cohen albums is the tendency of reviewers to try and use unnecessary hyperbole: if it's good, say it is good and move on. The majority of critics do not have the writing skill to inject praise in a way that doesn't seem too forced, too clever. Invective and destruction however, is a different story (think every second Pitchfork review). 

Besides this, I feel compelled to add myself to the no-doubt chorus of praise for the new Leonard Cohen album. My only caveat is that it is short, too short to fill the necessary longing of the listener to hear the art of Cohen.

'Sublime' and 'Genius' will be two of the words tof praise hat reviewers will lavish on this album. And, admittedly, they fit the lyrics and music like a thief in the night. In the recent documentary '20000 Days on Earth', Nick Cave talks about how songwriting is about counterpoint: a lesson he probably learnt from listening to Cohen's early albums (think Avalanche). And it is the sublime accompanying of the music to the precise lyrics of Cohen that form the work — akin to a bronze cast and the bronze. There is a proximity that fuels the songs; they go further than if they had been amped up for the listener. This, perhaps, is the guidance that Sharon Robinson has brought to the table with her ongoing collaboration with Leonard Cohen. 

No better does this hit you is than the first track: slow. Cohen's perfect album 'Ten New Songs' fostered this approach (Note: I'd defend this opinion out in the street). Long gone is the speed-driven ecstasy that was 'I'm your man', and the confused message in the bottle that was 'Dear Heather'. Cohen has hit his straps, and those straps are befitting the weary, aged warrior poet. The scars are celebrated: the voice beyond the ridicule that was poured on it in the past. 

And on the subject of lyrical genius, Cohen is content to let the precision take place front-and-centre. New ground may not be broken, but the mischievous poet of the days of  'Let us compare Mythologies' is ready to give himself up for our voyeur-like gaze. We are richer for it, and we will long for more: one more album, one more book. Leonard is Eighty, and if this is the last piece of work—and I sincerely hope not—it would be befitting as a key work of the journey of a blues artist, going down slow with synth, jawbone and banjo in his back-pocket. 

Do yourself a favour and buy the record when you're next at you're favourite store.