Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas [Columbia, 2012]
So subtly that it takes forever to sink in and so slowly that reading along is a must, Cohen coughs up his first studio album in eight years, meaning his next is due when he's 85 unless he dies first, which seems to be his bet. Except maybe for Johnny Cash's, no death album has ever come across quite this somber. Since Cohen generated the succulent 2009 Live in London as well as the prunelike 2010 Songs From the Road during the never-ending tour that intervened, it's conceivable that he's playing up the fragility of his crumbling baritone to back that bet as the usual panoply of handmaidens provides soul, sweetening, and breathing room. But give it its long chance and you'll find that not only is Cohen's sense of humor alive and kicking from the first words, in which Cohen famously ventriloquizes for Jahweh himself, but that the final song is keyed to the refrain "You want to change the way I make love/I want to leave it alone." Naturally, what he wants to leave alone is left ambiguous--his feckless, lubricious, needy, expert way of making love, or making love itself? If the former, what's this "saved by a blessed fatigue"? And if the latter, what's this "her braids and her blouse all undone"? Eight years younger than Cohen myself, I wouldn't be surprised if it's both, and don't look forward to the relevant critical insights the future will almost certainly afford me. A-