on life, music etc beyond mainstream

„There is, however, a more appealing balance here between acoustic instrumentation (Cohen even returns to plucking the guitar strings at times) and what might be uncharitably termed his bizarre budget Bontempi sound, whereby each song seems to compete for the cheesiest drum machine sound or the tackiest, most dated synthesiser patches. Only an artist completely confident in his own aesthetic can get away with this – Cohen knows the impact of the contrast between his articulate, profound and haunting words and the occasional tackiness of his music is eerily powerful. For once, though, it’s sometimes hard here to discern the source of some of the sounds. Is the aching string line on Show Me The Place synthesised or not? Are the brushed drums on Amen performed or programmed? Either way, they serve as perfectly unobtrusive accompaniments …“ (source: OMH review, excerpt)


„I’m tired of choosing desire,
I’ve been saved by a blessed fatigue,
The gates of commitment unwired,
And nobody trying to leave.“


The voice so deep, „a thousand kisses deep“, to say it with the words of one of his songs. After listening to the album three times in a row, you realize there is no standout track, no future evergreen (the word evergreen should be banned anyway: too much nostalgia even takes the good part of darkness away). The longest track, „Amen“, is a hymn, a prayer that agnostics and atheists might fall in love with while enjoying the feel of ancient banjo, sepia-coloured violin and simple cornet. On „Old Ideas“ the man with the golden voice (good old joke!) doesn’t act like a preacher at all, and every verse that could seem to send a message carved in stone and song is quickly counterbalanced by dark humour, self-irony and stoicism. There are bluesy moments, slow-motion-gospel – and jazz-vibes. The gravity comes from the voice, and how it nearly creates new definitions of close miking and sub-bass, with the result of warm intimacy. And then there are all the female voices of older and newer times (from Jennifer Warnes to the Webb Sisters) doing the jobs of a second voice, a background, and a choir. An old Cohen tradition: but remember, on the first studio album of his demon-chasing life, the producer added these kind of angelic colours against the will of the singer to soften the scenery. An old trick that still works. It is the sincerity of the artist that allows him to stick totally to old ideas without any suspect he might have lost it. He’s just slowing down, down, down – with a clear eye for exit signs and open places: “Sometimes I’d head for the highway/ I’m old and the mirrors don’t lie/ But crazy has places to hide in/ Deeper than saying goodbye,” he sings/speaks on „Crazy To Love You“, accompanied by an acoustic guitar only. So, finally, closing time, silence, a last dying tone? No, that would be too pretentious. It’s better to leave the scene with a beat, a rhythmic soul groove  – and asking for a kiss. Amen.

First Listen: Leonard Cohen – „Old Ideas“ (

This entry was posted on Montag, 23. Januar 2012 and is filed under "Blog, Musik aus 2012". You can follow any responses to this entry with RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Lisa writes: As interesting as it is to to know that we will able to hear the whole album ahead of its release date, plus the now four songs that are available (all for free), I kind of miss the „old days“ when I would rush out to the record store, and then rush home, eager to hear a new album, and then I’d sit there in my room, taking it all in, flooded with the sound through good stereo speakers, holding the record sleeve (or CD case) in my hands, flipping through the booklet. It was so easy to get lost in the whole experience. Now, the new stuff comes through the computer (bit by bit, as it turns out), so here we sit, at our desks, listening to brilliant new Leonard Cohen songs through crappy speakers, nothing solid to hold onto. It think it takes some of the romance away from the whole experience (it certainly takes some of the excitement away, I think, since we’ll have heard most, if not all, of the songs
    before we get the album in our hands), and that is kind of sad. (source: The Leonard Cohen Forum)

  2. Gregor:

    Es gibt wohl kaum eine Platte, über die ich mich mehr ärgern musste als über die neue CD von Leonard Cohen. Nachdem ich auf npr „first listen“ die CD gehört hatte, war es um meine Stimmung geschehen. Was für wundervolle Melodien, was für eine ausgefallene Instrumentierung, was für ein schönes Duo (Violine & Trompete), was für eine Stimme. Die ganze CD ein Rohdiamant. Anwärter für die Jahres TOP 10! Aber dann, was für ein Ärger. Bis auf ein einziges dieser wundervollen Lieder erfährt jedes einen grauenhaften Zuckerguss, wird zugekleistert, verkitscht bis zur Unkenntlichkeit mit lauter HUHUHU AHAHA und wieder HUHUHU des Hintergrundchores.
    Das ist so jammerschade, ich fass es nicht!

  3. Alex:

    Leonard Cohen – First we take Manhattan Live 12-07-2008

    Huuuu aahhh huuuu aahh der Sängerinnen, seicht, seicht, und dann die dämlichen Bewegungsübungen dieser Damen. Soll wohl ein breites Publikum ansprechen.

  4. Michael Engelbrecht:

    OMG, he’s the best, I just listen, close my eyes and imagine sitting on the floor, wrapped in a shaw and a beautiful fire and he’s there with a few good friends playing and singing these songs. You can just feel the songs all the way to your bones. My son took me to see him in concert a few years back and it was the greatest thing he could have ever done for me. He’s beautiful!!!! I don’t want to open my eyes.

    Ein Kommentar bei, den ich gut nachempfinden kann. Der Zuckerrand, die sanfte Begleitung, die Backgroundgesänge, gehören zur sanften Verführung des Herrn Cohen. Gewiss nicht jedermanns Sache. Die Stimme transzendiert all dies. Shubi du, Shu bi du, so what?!

    Allerdings mag ich auch diese ketzerischen Kommentare, sonst würde der Mann zu schnell heilig gesprochen:)

  5. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Fiona Shepherd in THE SCOTSMAN

    By Fiona Shepherd
    Published on Monday 23 January 2012 12:24

    LATE last year, Leonard Cohen received the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature, one to add to the groaning shelf of accolades that also includes a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and inductions into both the Rock’n’Roll and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

    Cohen is a notorious obfuscator when it comes to discussing his writing, remarking in his acceptance speech that “if I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often”. But at the age of 77, he has plenty of wisdom to impart (and probably plenty more lifetime award ceremonies at which to do so). On this occasion, he spoke with measured eloquence on an early lesson that one should “never lament casually. And if one is to express the great inevitable defeat that awaits us all, it must be done within the strict confines of dignity and beauty.”

    Old Ideas, his first album in eight years, does that, just not strictly within those particular confines. That’s because Leonard Cohen is an old rogue, fully capable of comporting himself with both dignity and beauty, but simply unable to resist seasoning his work with playful, often mordant humour.

    He is as mischievous as ever on opening track Going Home, encouraging the idea that “Leonard Cohen” is an artistic trademark by taking a step outside the persona and having a right old go at his enduring image. Here, the urbane ladies’ man is dismissed as “a lazy bastard living in a suit”.

    “I love to speak to Leonard,” he whispers with relish, describing “Leonard” as a mere mouthpiece, and a skin he plans to shed in the end.

    Having rocked the boat right at the start, what are we to make of the confessional tone elsewhere? Old Ideas is up there with Johnny Cash’s final albums as a meditation on mortality (and morality, for that matter). Maybe he’s not a straight-shooter like Cash but there is still a great sobriety and sincerity to, say, these lines from The Darkness on the depression he suffered for much of his adult life: “the present’s not that pleasant… I thought the past would last me, but the darkness got that too”.

    Cohen shook off that shadow at a Buddhist retreat in the 1990s, emerging lighter in both mind and pocket – his business manager having swindled him out of his pension fund. There is probably a Confucian saying to express the karmic benefits which resulted when Cohen saddled up his pony and headed back out on tour to recoup his losses, playing 247 shows in 31 countries between 2008 and 2010.

    He was reinvigorated by the experience but his remarkable voice sounds utterly ravaged now. Cohen puts it down to giving up smoking. These days he can manage a stage whisper, or stretch to a gruff growl. But it suits the hangdog tone of the record and brings out even more of a beauty/beast contrast with his exquisite backing chorus of Dana Glover, Sharon Robinson, Hattie and Charley Webb and, back in the fold, Jennifer Warnes, all cooing divinely like good angels on his shoulder.

    On Anyhow, the combination of Cohen’s gravelly rumble and their siren sighs is akin to the voodoo jazz of Dr John’s bewitching early albums. Here, Cohen plays the cad returning with his tail between his legs, looking for absolution, or at least a drop of mercy for his trangressions. “I know you have to hate me – could you hate me less?” he inquires with a conversational wryness.

    Throughout the album, Cohen has one foot on the altar, the other in the bedroom. Show Me The Place is a submissive plea from an old man for assistance to worship as he would like: “Show me the place, help me roll away the stone, show me the place, I can’t move this thing alone.” When he seeks wholeness again later on the album, the Sirens mop his brow and kiss it all better with the soothing gospel balm of Come Healing.

    Amen is a mournful slow dance to a beautifully understated backing, featuring the quiet twang of guitar strings, the merest hint of banjo, a delicate brush on the snare, a muted trumpet striking the devastating blow, then soulful violin to finish the job. But all the while Cohen is gripping his partner tightly, obsessively bidding her to “tell me again” about the old times.

    He sounds truly weary on Crazy To Love You, a bare Cash-like country blues in which he counts the cost of love, and thoroughly disgruntled on Different Sides as he documents the war of attrition in a relationship where the two parties want entirely different things: “down in the valley, the famine goes on” he remarks bitterly.

    But that’s “Leonard” for you. Mr Cohen is far from resigned. Already he is talking about another album and tour. If he has any more of these old ideas to impart, it would be sheer pleasure to hear them.

  6. Michael Engelbrecht:

    James Skinner, Drowned in Sound

    At the Isle of Wight festival in 1970, Leonard Cohen was woken from a nap in the early hours of the morning and told it was time to take the stage. Faced with a frenzied and potentially hostile crowd buzzing off the previous performance by one Jimi Hendrix, he calmly and persuasively placated his audience. While his stage banter occasionally verged on the incomprehensible, his songs were magical, hypnotic, and he struck the deepest of chords with the assembled festival-goers.

    It is hard to reconcile the glassy-eyed, rambling young troubadour of old with the warm, gracious figure who picked up the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature in October of last year; indeed, the same who regularly brought the house down on his years-spanning, triumphant world tour of the late Noughties. If there is a constant it is surely the sense of gravity he exudes so effortlessly. When Leonard Cohen speaks, sings and recites people pay attention, even if the man himself is not entirely sure he has warranted it. In a rare recent interview, intrigued by a line about writing a “manual for living with defeat,” the Guardian’s Dorian Lynskey asked him whether listeners could learn about life from his songs. He replied:

    Song operates on so many levels. It operates on the level you just spoke of where it addresses the heart in its ordeals and its defeats but it also is useful in getting the dishes done or cleaning the house. It’s also useful as a background to courting.

    This is the Leonard Cohen we are getting on Old Ideas. As widely noted in the press reaction to the first three songs made available from the record, Cohen returns to familiar themes on his twelfth studio LP. At once sad and wise, inquisitive, eloquent, repentant – and 77 years on this Earth, no closer to unravelling the mysteries of the opposite sex – that his creative spark remains so undimmed as he reaches his twilight years is something worth celebrating.

    ‘Going Home’ is the opener, wherein Cohen addresses himself (“A lazy bastard living in a suit”) against sparse instrumentation and a lovely, redemptive string figure. Many of the trademarks of his latter-day work are present, including sweet female backing vocals (courtesy of longtime collaborator Sharon Robinson and the Webb Sisters), an inclination towards electric piano and a wry self-deprecation that both amuses and hints at the unease he feels towards his public persona. The very idea of ‘going home’, too, subtly addresses the notion of mortality – one that stalks these ten songs, never more explicitly than on ‘Darkness’: “I know my days are few … I thought the past would have lasted me, but the darkness got that too.”

    But if mortality shades the bulk of Old Ideas, that is not to say it is an overly downcast or heavy work. ‘Darkness’ crackles with wit and is instrumentally the most upbeat thing on here, while in a song like ‘Show Me the Place’ his grave, gravelly, breathtakingly deep voice speaks volumes in regret and longing. But it is a beautiful, beautiful song – among the most beautiful he has ever sung, perhaps – and it impacts all the harder in the wake of a life devoted to the noble pursuit of art, the quandaries of spirituality and how to live, how to love. “Help me roll away the stone,” he pleads to his lover; “Show me the place / I can’t move this thing alone.”

    Scribbling down notes on my first front-to-back listen of Old Ideas quickly became an exercise in keeping up; the man is so endlessly quotable I had soon filled four sides of A4 with lines from the album. Religious imagery abounds, and while songs such as ‘Amen’ are fragmentary enough to inspire multiple readings and interpretations, something like ‘Come Healing’ is more specific in its intentions. Cohen sings of “gates of mercy,” “a penitential hymn,” and the “solitude of loving,” drawing a distinction between heart and reason, finding both equally in need of restoration.

    It is this kind of dichotomy that pervades Old Ideas, whether that be between his inner-self and the image his words and music has perpetuated, or the struggle to live decently in the face of hypocrisies and hardships that are themselves nothing new. “We find ourselves on different sides of a line nobody drew,” he remarks on the closing song, ‘Different Sides’. “You want to live where the suffering is / I want to get out of town.” On the very first song of the album Cohen speaks of a “a cry above the suffering,” and that word crops up repeatedly over these ten songs, often equated with love and all things ostensibly good. It is as if he is acknowledging the concept that his (and by extension, our) ‘suffering’ is something worthwhile, something that defines us and makes us who we are – something that, nevertheless, you still might want to run away from, and understandably so.

    Maybe. That is part of the beauty of having another Leonard Cohen album to pore over. It is feasible that these songs are as much a mystery to him as they are to listeners, and many do come off vague at first, deeper listening yielding a gem of a lyric, a piece of wordplay hitherto unnoticed, or a sweet dialogue between trumpet, violin and Spanish guitar.

    It is a strange twist of fate that has led him back to the public eye – the financial woes endured followed by a tour that exceeded all expectations. It is something he never could have foreseen, which makes it all the more remarkable that on Old Ideas he filters these gifts of poetry and keen observation through his bruised, romantic outlook, into a fully-formed album that sounds as if it was always in there, waiting to see the light of day. Or the darkness.

  7. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Brilliante Musik erhält nicht immer die besten Wertungen. Webseiten wie oder sammeln die Rezensionen diverser neuer Aufnahmen und ermitteln einen Mittelwert. Klassealben wie Enos DRUMS BETWEEN THE BELLS oder Diagrams‘ BLACK LIGHT landen zwischen 6.7 und 7.1, streitbare Werke, die selten einen Konsens erzeugen. Da freue ich mich, dass Alttroubadour Leonard Cohen fast durchweg sehr positive Reaktionen erfährt, s., und derzeit bei 8.1 liegt. Es gibt gewiss wenige Sänger, denen ich so ein hypermelodisches Klangfeld incl. Engelschöre abnehme, aber, gegen meine sonstigen Präferenzen mag ich diese Zuckerbäckerei sehr.

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