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
‘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.