"I'm tired of choosing desire/ I've been saved by a blessed fatigue/ The gates of commitment unwired/ Nobody's trying to leave."
Poetic lyrics are par for the course with Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. But that shouldn't be a surprise - the man was one of Canada's most renowned poets for several years before he became famous as a rock 'n' roll performer.
On "Old Ideas," released Jan. 31, Cohen's smooth, sexy voice is in prime form and hooks flow from it effortlessly. This album is the sound of a masterful crooner doing what he does well - sincerely and playfully delivering emotionally potent songs bedded by soulful background vocals.
Cohen's "Show Me the Place" is particularly affecting, with lyrics like "Show me the place, where the Word became a man/ Show me the place where the suffering began."
Cohen, a deeply spiritual man, uses his faith here to be a bit provocative. By saying "where the Word became a man," Cohen is referencing the oft-neglected aspect of Christianity that Jesus is referenced to as the "Logos" of God in the Bible (John 1:1). "Logos" is a Greek word that takes on a variety of meanings depending on the context. In philosophy, it can mean "reason" or "plan" and in a religious context, it usually indicates "the divine reason" or "the Word." It's understandable that this aspect of the faith is generally neglected because it's difficult to imagine "the Word" becoming flesh. But it completely makes sense that Cohen would be attracted to that aspect because as a poet, what would be more meaningful than a "word" taking human form?
Cohen maximizes the potential of his "winter years" album, confronting death (Cohen is 77, so he could live another two decades but he's pressing the issue here) with the same humor and poetry that defines his life. He also avoids the trappings of sentimentality that bog down so many of these efforts (see Johnny Cash's "American VI").
I do wonder, however, whether the album will be as potent for listeners that aren't spiritually inclined. Hopefully, his dryness and sense of humor counterbalance his overt religiosity for those who are left cold by it.
As far as I'm concerned, this album is a masterpiece. It isn't "important" because it doesn't tread new ground stylistically, but it's important to me because it seems like people have simply forgotten how to make a solid album with lyrical depth.
And, for the record (knyuck, knyuck), I did this review based on the vinyl version. Listening to it on a turntable adds just a little more soul to the experience.