[CD Review] LEONARD COHEN – Popular Problems

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Opening with the very descriptive track ‘Slow’, Leonard Cohen delivers his 13th studio album with a tapping beat and gravelly voice telling listeners “I always liked it slow, that’s what my Mamma said“. Very minimal guitar and organ give this track a very bluesy feel.

‏With an album that is at times more spoken word that singing, Cohen delivers a short album tackling some of life’s popular problems. He is thoughtful, reflective and at times a little bitter through much of the album, but his gravelly voice purrs out each number so soulfully that the listener is drawn in.

‘Almost Like The Blues’ tells us of his life’s struggles, “I have to die a little, between each murderous thought / and when I am finished thinking I have to die a lot” is a confession he makes, along with how he has to “keep my heart frozen“. It is autobiographical in it’s delivery and a slightly regretful take on how life can weigh you down, almost.

‘Did I Ever Love You’ has shades of brilliance, opening with simple piano and Cohen mournfully musing over love. However at the chorus, back up singers come in, transporting the song from blues to almost country; making no sense. It does not add to the song, and if the cheesy back up singing was left out this song would have been brilliant. Sadly it is ruined by the addition of the cringe-worthy chorus.

The only other love themed song ‘My Oh My’ fares much better as a love song, it is sweet and reminiscent of past love that can be fleeting. Trumpets come in on the chorus lifting it to a faster pace, there is more instrumental arrangement on this track than any other in the album. Cohen lifts his voice to sing of how saying goodbye becomes a sweet memory in a love long gone.

‘Nevermind’ rolls in like a slow freight train singing about the “truth that dies” during war and the lies that are told out of it. It is a stab at how hate and killing are a part of war, and servitude goes hand in hand with the lies, but it’s not Cohen’s problem, so never mind.

Closing the album with ‘You Got Me Singing’, violins open the final number of the album, Cohen takes a little stab at “That old Hallelujah hymn“, his most famous song. It may be a dig at the legacy of what is now almost known as Jeff Buckley’s song (sung so beautifully on Buckley’s album Grace), but it does not sound regretful, rather it is just a reminder of the brilliance that Cohen will leave as his legacy.

Leonard Cohen has always been a master of the written word, a celebrated poet long before he took what he had on paper to music. This offering is bluesy and soulful and shows that the 80 year old artist still has it in him to produce another masterpiece. The only thing to detract from this album is the at times annoying back up singing; other than that, like a fine wine Cohen just gets better with age.

8/10
Reviewer: Amanda Starkey

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