Album review: Leonard Cohen | Popular Problems

Album number thirteen from Leonard Cohen follows with what seems like indecent haste, a mere 32 months after 2012’s Old Ideas. This follow-up sticks fairly rigidly to its predecessor’s template of smooth, muted synth-based instrumentation with collaborator Patrick Leonard.

The now 80 year old man is in fairly sound form, his bottom of the ocean deep voice kicking off proceedings on what could be Cohen’s mantra for living – Slow. “You wanna get there soon, I wanna get there last…. it’s not because I’m old… I always liked it slow,” he sings, before being by the inevitable female chorus, and some almost bawdy horns. It’s a great start and he makes good on this by following with the gloriously moody Almost Like The Blues. Mall the instrumentation is in the right place on this one, with just the right amount of keyboards, piano and percussion. It comes across as a dark throwback to Waiting For A Miracle musically and The Future lyrically. No bad thing.

Continuing in this vein would be a big ask. Instead, Samson In New Orleans and A Street cast Cohen in his latter day default setting of wizened old sage, the former featuring Alexandra Bublitchi’s exquisite violin. Did I Ever Love You begins similarly before, 45 seconds in, Cohen’s growl is replaced by the female vocalists and a skittering, shuffling chorus. It doesn’t jar as such but it IS a bit of a wtf moment.

Later, the relatively sparse Nevermind plods along nicely before Donna De Lory’s world music style vocal is chucked in randomly, and it doesn’t quite work, while Born In Chains aims for modern day hymn territory in an all too obvious way. The twangy guitar and simple, descending melody of My Oh My suit him better, while Bublitchi’s warm violin that introduces You Got Me Singing is a quite lovely way to finish the album, as he sings “you got me singing that Hallelujah hymn”. No prizes for guessing which one.

It’s definitely a ‘sit down and listen’ album as its nuances are subtle and easily missed, yet it doesn’t quite charm in the way some of his other work does. More Old Ideas maybe?

Killian Laher

Tracklist:
1. Slow
2. Almost Like The Blues
3. Samson In New Orleans
4. A Street
5. Did I Ever Love You
6. My Oh My
7. Nevermind
8. Born In Chains
9. You Got Me Singing

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