Cohen, Leonard : Ten New Songs

King of misery returns from monastry with synthesizer.

Even his most optimistic fans could’ve been forgiven for thinking that they’d heard

the last of Leonard Cohen, the most urbanely depressed of rock’s elder

statesmen. After all, he’s just turned 67, hasn’t released an album in nine

years and, most pertinently, appeared to have found contentment of sorts living

as a Buddhist monk in California.

Fears of a red wine and cigarette-free meditation CD can be allayed, however.

‘Ten New Songs’ addresses Cohen’s prospects of redemption more optimistically

than usual, but it remains packed with the qualities that have inspired at least

three generations of self-conscious miserablilists. There’s that lugubrious

approximation of singing, a voice so heavy on experience it makes Lou Reed sound

like Chris Martin. There are the vivid poetics, too graceful to be dismissed as

pretentious. And, in common with 1992’s ‘The Future’, there’s a rather cheesy synth

production, just about subtle enough not to distract from Cohen’s enduringly

fine songs.

‘A Thousand Kisses Deep’ and ‘By The Rivers Dark’ are both superb

slow cruises into Cohen’s psyche, as he ponders ageing and past misdemeanours

and opens tentative negotiations with life outside the monastery; [I]”I’m back on

Boogie Street” is a quaint recurring theme. Overall, it’s a terrible place to be introduced to Cohen – try his ‘Greatest Hits’ for

more stylishly-arranged bedsit grief – but nevertheless, beneath the plasticky

politeness is the same old wry fatalism that the likes of Smog continue to

strive for. Life’s a bitch and then you die, but in Cohen’s case, nowhere near

as early as he imagined.

John Mulvey

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