17/10/14 – Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems – 2014

Leonard-Cohen-Popular-Problems Cover Art 2014Age shouldn’t really be the point, but it seems that in popular music the older you get the worse you are. In the case of Leonard Cohen that rule isn’t strictly true – it’s just that he isn’t better than he was. He’s different, still good but he comes across as Pop Poetry’s answer to Hugh Hefner. (The frankly awful cover art seems to exaggerate the point). But that’s what happens in this type of music, it doesn’t happen in painting or literature, an artist or a writer might write their masterpiece as they approach their deathbed but it’s unlikely in Rock and Roll. So when you know you’re good and when you know you’re smart like Leonard Cohen does, it must be deeply frustrating to accept that however good you are, you can’t beat that kid in the black and white photograph and at 80 years of age the audience admire you equally for your stamina as much as your poetry.

Unfair? Yes because the record is lyrically engaging, sepia tone vignettes that deal with past or imagined mysterious liaisons, contemplating distant lovers still trying to sort out who was right and who was wrong – regrets take the place of ambition or enthusiasm in one’s dotage. Cohen has become the sexy octogenarian that he already was when he was 30 except the roles are reversed – then he gravitated to intellect and wisdom via a beauteous darkness that surrounded him, whereas now as he gets older he gets trendier – trendier sounds, trendier production, some of these songs might suit a rejuvenated Grace Jones if such a thing were possible. It’s a long way from the last glance at the monastery door.

His voice seems to have good and bad days or, like Dylan, gurgling days and singing days. I never quite understood the appeal of the hospital voice that Dylan, Cohen and especially Waits use to excess, thankfully it’s only here as an occasional tool of expression. One admires Cohen for not going the way of Gainsbourg who satiated his appetite on wine, women and song – and death by Gauloise at the age of 62. The women in Cohen’s life are his backing singers and they are his unique trademark and they help control the songs, helping escape the sameness of his sing/speak melodies.

Cohen is a clever sophisticate, one eye on cool, one eye on people and his third eye on religion. One wonders what kind of actor he would have made (better than Dylan no doubt). But you get the feeling that it may have been too frivolous a profession for him. It’s as a lyricist that his talent shines the brightest and all the Ian McCullochs and Nick Caves of the world can’t hold a votive candle to him. His character analysis is spot on, his overview of the human condition succinct and it would be interesting to know if he is a loving man because he is truly loved.


Rather than a proper video this is purely an advertisement for the new album with a full version of the song Almost Like The Blues.