This week I bought 'Popular Problems' by Leonard Cohen and in a word it's...................masterful!
At 80 years of age, Cohen brings all his experience, let's his band and backing singers have their space in the sound & fills all the gaps with his half spoken/half sung baritone.
It's at least on a par with his last great record 'Old Ideas' from a couple of years ago, and for sure more immediate in my view. You don't so much listen to this as simply feel it. It is just beautiful throughout.
Stepping back a few years, I'd never heard of LC until the mid 80's when a long lost friend gave me some vinyl to look after for him & then I was too young to understand his 'poetry' set to music or to see his 'legendary' status.
Over the years my mind broadened and more and more as I look back over his 'Essential' work I began to see the beauty in his output.
And yet, I'm still not sure I fully understand the full depth of his lyrics here, but you do get a sense of gravitas and seeing him in concert earlier this year only made me appreciate him more.
Patrick Leonard who worked with Madonna has made a good partnership with LC, co-writing most of this album and producing it and seems to have made a relationship similar to that between Johnny Cash & Rick Rubin. Together they make magic!
'Slow' is track 1, a bluesy, smokey feel, sexy too (and there have always been sensual/sexy undertones and lines in his work), apparently mainly about the passage of time and death, and taking his time to get there. So many killer couplets in this tune, here's the most obvious followed by a couple of others;
'You want to get there soon, I want to get there last'......
'A weekend on your lips, a lifetime in your eyes'......
'With you it's got to go, with me it's got to last'.....
and there are several others in here too
Next up is the 1st single 'Almost Like The Blues', piano and percussion (bongo's) rule here. The key lines appear to be 'My father says I'm chosen, my mother say's I'm not, I listened to their story, of the Gypsies and the Jews' - I'm not sure how true it is but I believe he has a Judaic background. Another 3 lines I adore go 'There is no god in heaven, and there is no hell below, so says the great professor' - A reference to Lennon's 'Imagine' surely
'Samson in New Orleans' almost hymn like at the beginning, before the most delicate beautiful violin solos flick in and out, seems to take a look at different cultures in america.
'A Street' is SO soulful, built around keyboards. A couple appear to be parted after one half has gone off to join the military possibly a foreign militia. They start out as a pair who like a drink ('I used to be your favourite drunk, good for one more laugh') and just before he waits, he realises ('But we'll never no we'll never ever be that drunk again'). It ends with the narrator waiting on the corner where there used to be a street.
Track 5 is 'Did I Ever Love You', almost a country tune with tempo changes (picks up for the repeated backing vocal chorus') a little similar to Bruce's liver version of 'We Are Alive'. Small violin part again by Alexandru Bublitcha is gorgeous. He's looking at if love even exists I think. Did I ever love you, and also relationships in general 'is it ever over'. This is one where the meaning is irrelevant cos it just sounds great!
'My Oh My' seems to be about an ended relationship by is joyful in it's way as he celebrates 'Held You For A Little While, My Oh My Oh My' & then a great brass part (uncredited) brings it all home.
'Nevermind' may be too clever and too intelligent for me. It's about the Middle East (I think) and features a touch of Arabic singing amongst the backing vocals. The key chorus goes 'There's truth that lives and truth that dies, I don't know which so Never Mind'
'Born in Chains' looks at his Judaic roots again. Lots of biblical imagery in this tune. Almost a hymn again.
Lastly, as if the preceeding 8 tracks weren't enough, he brings it all home with the brilliant, deceptively simple 'You Got Me Singing'. Folky, countryish, a bit pop too, with reference to his timeless hit 'Hallelujah' this song makes it clear that even if his great return to prominence is as a result of being ripped off by his former manager' he's enjoying his rejuvenation and intends to come back still singing his song.
On this form, may that long be the case.
Majestic may be the word for this. It's great!