Just a couple of years after the release of Old Ideas, Leonard Cohen (who recently celebrated his 80th birthday) is back with a new album. It’s been almost 45 years since the legendary Canadian songwriter and poet embarked upon his musical career – one with much to reflect upon.
New songs for the old ceremony
Popular Problems is Cohen’s 13th studio album and though the total length is just under 36 minutes, the album’s 9 tracks more than make up for its short duration.
Cohen has always liked to take his time the album’s opening track (Slow) reminds us, setting the tone for what is about to follow. Track after track, Cohen’s mature, relaxed and confident voice takes us through a musical journey of introspection and confession in what ultimately becomes a cathartic experience for both singer and listener.
Some of the principal themes Cohen has dealt with over the years such as love, religion, and politics are all present and treated with sincerity, humour as well as profound feeling. In some of the album’s best moments, as in the last verse of Almost Like the Blues, self-reflection, existential agony and sarcasm intermingle:
“There is no God in heaven / And there is no Hell below / So says the great professor of all there is to know / But I’ve had the invitation that a sinner can’t refuse / And it’s almost like salvation; it’s almost like the blues.”
Most of the songs feature discreet -at times almost imperceptible- orchestrations, while Cohen’s distinctive singing is surrounded by angelic-sounding choruses and female background vocals that strike a sharp contrast to his deep, hoarse voice. Besides, and not surprisingly, the album’s lyrics are of high literary quality. In fact, the words to some of the songs (e.g. A Street and Nevermind) were previously published as poems before finding their way into the album.
With Popular Problems Leonard Cohen offers us one more token of his seemingly exhaustless creative urge and spiritual yearning. And judging from You Got Me Singing, the album’s closing track, it appears the Canadian troubadour’s quest isn’t drawing to a close quite yet:
“You got me singing / Though the world is gone / You got me thinking / I’d like to carry on.”