Music: Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas

I’m a little delayed on writing this one. I’ve listened to it many times since it began streaming on NPR, and then when it was released on January 31st. One of my most anticipated albums for months, I feel like the music world has been blessed with both excellent new releases by both Tom Waits (Bad As Me late last year) and now Old Ideas by Leonard Cohen.

The lyrics of Going Home, “Going home without my sorrow, going home sometime tomorrow, going home to where it's better than before” are just so simply beautiful. Take off everything that weighs you down and disguises you and walk free towards home, wherever home may be. Death? Maybe. Another world or life? Maybe.

I grew up on Leonard Cohen, quite literally. I inherited all of the old vinyls from my father, stepfather and mother (now in my lovely brother’s care), and have turned to his music and lyrical poetry so many times in my life that I don’t think I could even remember why. Famous Blue Raincoat and Chelsea Hotel #2 conjure up images of sad, rainy and grey days in New York City, walking up Park Ave from the subway, trying to rid myself of the constant heartache I was feeling at the time. Everybody Knows remind me of a trip back from Bodega Bay with my brother, the song starting minutes after we had both told each other stories that neither had managed to tell each other before. Dark roads, unknown secrets and Leonard’s soothing voice keeping us going towards the next destination. First We Take Manhattan takes me back to England in the 80’s, in our old flat by the churchyard, not knowing why certain events had happened and how I was ever going to forget or forgive them from happening. I could go on for hours…

I have seen Leonard Cohen perform just once in my life, and it will still remain the best show I have ever been to. Radio City Music Hall in May 2009. Over 3 hours of an absolutely amazing performance. This is all I could say on my blog back then, and I think I will keep it at that right now:

“Leonard Cohen was amazing - I am still in awe of him and his performance on Saturday night. I really can't describe the feeling of seeing someone you have pretty much admired and adored all of you life, performing in front of you. So I am not even going to try. I will keep the jumble of superlatives stuck in my head and leave it up to you to imagine.
Leonard Cohen. On stage. Yes.”

So, Old Ideas. Another wonderful collection of Leonard’s poems and music, not that I expected anything less. His voice alone has the tendency to reduce me to automatic tears when I hear it, and surround me with memories, despair and much hope, and this album does exactly that. Although low-key in sound, it is never simple, on the contrary it is full of metaphors for death, God, spirituality, love, despair and hope. Somehow it feels like an end to something, not as much the end of life, but maybe a final chapter in a life, the emphasis being on the article “a”. The background singers sound like angels, and the occasional use of an organ and the simple guitar sounds bring calm and serenity to the words that go from bleak to self-deprecating to even happy at times. Ten beautiful songs that each tell a story in the usual Cohen style. Just listen to it and dream – I know you won’t be disappointed.

Leonard Cohen Official Website

Leonard Cohen on Facebook

“You know it really is a pity, the way you treat me now; I know you can't forgive me but forgive me, anyhow. The ending got so ugly, I even heard you say, "You never ever loved me but could you love me anyway?" I dreamed about you, baby, you were wearin' half your dress I know you have to hate me but could you hate me less? I've used up all my chances and you'll never take me back But there ain't no harm in askin', "Could you cut me one more slice?” from Anyhow

Tom Waits - Bad As Me: EPIC

I just don't know where to start. I woke up with a pounding headache, a more-than-niggling worry about how I am going to pay rent this month and opened my email to a code to listen to Tom Waits' new album "Bad As Me" on his website. Officially to be released on October 24th, those who are on the Tom Waits mailing list received "private listening party codes" this morning. Needless to say, two hours later, I have listened to the album twice, danced, wept, laughed and have packed my bags and am off on the road to discover new worlds. Ok, maybe not the latter, but the rest, yes. Tom Waits always has that effect on me: makes me want to just get in a car and drive until I get somewhere else.

Remember when you had the time to put a new album on, lie down on your bed or couch, close your eyes and just LISTEN? This is what I did. I am so glad I did, because this album is EPIC. Everything I love about Tom Waits all contained in one album. Off-center ballads, marching songs, jangling beats, and-of-the-world-but-everything-will-sort-itself-out upbeat songs, murder, death, lost love, found love, gritty, home, away, characters I can relate to and places I want to go to. Lyrics that are meaningful, slightly twisted, never afraid to tell the truth... Totally relevant to 100 years ago and to today. Old-world, new world, my past, your past, my present, your present, our future. Nostalgia, hope, sadness, empathy, love, hate, anger, warmth - that's my Tom Waits and probably yours too. Listening to Bad As Me brings me right back to a whole load of different places and emotions, pain and mourning, happiness and joy. It's perfect - this is what great music does.

I have words to say about every song on the album, but I think it's up to everyone to discover their own Tom Waits love within this album, so here are a few highlights:

"Talking At The Same Time" is so relevant to the world today, as it was last year, a decade ago, 50 years ago... Waits' uses a falsetto voice to sing this one, and the beat sounds like a train running through life, even though "everyone is talking abut the same time".
Get a job, save your money, listen to Jane
Everybody knows umbrellas will cost more in the rain
All the news is bad
Is there any other kind?
Everybody’s talking at the same time

There are quite a few ballady-type songs on the album, which makes me very very happy (my favourite Tom Waits albums are still Closing Time and Heartattack and Vine). "Face To The Highway" is going to be on par with "Ol'55" in my books: beautifully sad leaving song:
I turned my face to the highway And I turn my back on you
I'm going away

Another beautiful departure/lost love one is "Back In The Crowd", slow and crooning, with a sad Spanish riff in the background. This one makes me cry every time I listen to it. It's that one song everyone wishes they could have written:
If you don’t want these arms to hold you
If you don’t want these lips to kiss you

If you’ve found somebody new
Put me back in the crowd

Put the sun behind the clouds
Put me back in the crowd

There are also enough of the more eccentric, jangling beats on the album too, with Tom Waits angry yowl coupled with his signature growl, like "Bad As Me" which is just really too cool for words. Just listen to it and try to feel as cool as he is. Won't work, but you can try! "Before I'm Gone" is another one - listen to the growl!!
"Hell Broke Luce" is pretty amazing. It sounds and is sung like a soldier's despondent marching song, with Keith Richards on guitar and Flea on bass, ending with the despondent lyrics that pretty much sum up war:
Now I’m home and I’m blind
And I’m broke
What is next

I'll leave the rest to you...You can also listen to album by going to the Bad As Me official website HERE and request a listening code. You won't regret it. It's simply amazing. That's all.

Here is more information on the album full track listing and lyrics on the Tom Waits official website under the link.