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Leonard Cohen's 'Old Ideas' Inspire Confidence

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At this point in his life, Leonard Cohen sings with a voice so deep and bottomless, he may as well be singing from underneath the earth. But that doesn't mean it's faint, or murky, or dead. Cohen's cracked baritone enunciates meticulous lyrics that sound searching, restless and jaunty. This has long been Cohen's saving grace: His dry humor juices up his more portentous pronouncements.

I said something about "saving grace" before, and on Old Ideas, the spiritual meaning of that phrase resonates frequently. Cohen spends time here asking forgiveness of old lovers and of God, careful to make it unclear which is more important to him. Cohen asks a woman, "I know you have to hate me, but could you hate me less?" as female voices rise up, as if in support of the old man's position. Perhaps he hired them, one is left to imagine, to provide support for his wooing of the woman he's imploring. "Have mercy on me, baby," he concludes. The instrumentation and genres on Old Ideas vary: Some songs are smooth pop ballads that slide along keyboard riffs, while others are folkier, with prominent acoustic guitar. A good example of Cohen's kind of folk music is "Crazy to Love You."

The killer couplet on that track is, "Crazy has places to hide in / that are deeper than any goodbye." That Cohen is as much in touch with his craziness and his carnal urges as he is with his always-perilous spiritual state gives Old Ideas its pleasing, sometimes poignant tension.

"Come Healing" talks about a healing of the spirit and the body, perhaps in preparation for a darkness that becomes clear in another song about death titled "Darkness." But there's not a trace of morbidity or self-pity or regret on one second of this entire album. Leonard Cohen is making music vital to his spirit, confident that a song transmits its essential nature directly to any listener receptive to his message. In this sense, Old Ideas is an inspirational album from a very lively old coot.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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