Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas (Psst…Lenny Has Something To Tell You)

By Paul Blizel

Very quietly Leonard Cohen released “Old Ideas” in 2012. It was almost as if he tried to slip it past us because I saw no mention of it in anywhere. That is a shame because I really think this record deserved more attention.

I admit that I have difficulties with Leonard Cohen records. Although he is one of the great songwriters of our generation, I can’t seem to sit through an entire record. While emotionally detached fans hold up his records up and sing Hallelujah in three part harmony, I fidget like a schoolboy sitting outside the principals office. To me, there is a bit too much reality going on. My goal of relaxing and enjoying a glass of wine is replaced by melancholy and I throw away the wine glass in favor of the medicinal qualities of tequila.

I chalk it up to the subject matter of Cohen’s lyrics. He has a habit of laying bare the reality of life without a silver lining in sight.  Although Old Ideas doesn’t wander far from his normal themes, they are told in a very personal way. Every phrase still has a touch of sadness and each song has a forgone conclusion that looks like 40 miles of bad road. The 77 year old Cohen whispers in his deep voice in such a private way it feels like those tales are told just for you. Not only did I make it all the way through the record, I pushed the repeat button and Leonard performed an encore performance.

I am not saying that this record is better than his others, critics will quickly point out other more “noteworthy” releases. But what Old Ideas does do very well is allow Leonard to use his voice as the principle instrument from which others take their queues. For those who have watched his career over the past 20 years or so, Mr. Cohen had an affinity for synth’s that sometimes took the lead and left his lyrics in the dust. Not so here, although the well managed accompaniment is beautifully done. The piano player and acoustic guitars bounce and weave and have a habit of dropping catchy hooks that stick in your head all day. But in the end, this is Cohen’s record to carry and he does so in spades.

Recording and production was done at multiple locations in Los Angeles and Mastered by Doug Sax and Robert Hadley at The Mastering Lab. Available in both LP and CD, I found that both formats had a similar sound leading me to believe that one mix was used for both. Too bad, I am sure Cohen’s voice on vinyl would have had a greater impact had more care been given to the media. But for under $20 for the LP (which includes a copy of the CD) I wasn’t surprised. The LP is now out of print in the US but I was able to order it from Canada.

Do yourself a favor and get a copy of Old Ideas. Get comfortable and let Lenny tell you a few stories. It will be great catching up with an old friend.