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Ten New Songs
Leonard Cohen is, as ever, good for a laugh
Peter Murphy, 25 Oct 2001
I keep forgetting this, but the first thing you have to get over with any new Leonard album is how MOR the music sounds compared to the razor-sharp cut of the words. But if the backing tracks (largely the work of co-producer Sharon Robinson) could’ve come from any time between 1985 and now – all muted keyboards with the odd splash of guitar, pedal steel and gospelish backing vocals taking the edge off Cohen’s burred purr – the lyrical bent has straightened itself somewhat.
Discounting a line or two in the closing ‘The Land Of Plenty’ there’s no state of the nation address on the scale of ‘Democracy’ or ‘The Future’, no sly satires like ‘The Jazz Police’. The closest relative of these songs in the Cohen canon is probably ‘I Can’t Forget’ off I’m Your Man.
The opening ‘In My Secret Life’ feels like it’s early morning, with the protagonist contemplating his first cup of coffee and nicotine hit of the day, mulling over past mistakes, victories, graces and disgraces with the air of a man who knows he won’t have as many more.
As any poet that’s not a liar (and there’s few enough of them) will tell you, as the years run out, you become less bothered about verbal cleverality and more concerned with getting down something approximating your truth. Hence ‘Here It Is’, with words as carefully engraved as the information on a headstone. Or ‘By The Rivers Dark’, with an opening verse as simple and monumental as a psalm: “By the rivers dark/I wandered on/I lived my life/In Babylon”. Or the unprepossessing title: Ten New Songs wrought from old themes, new flesh for old ceremonies; love and its shadow, death and its reflection – all subjects too grave to be taken seriously. And Leonard Cohen is, as ever, good for a laugh.
He’s your man.