Leonard Cohen Ten New Songs Review

BBC Review

Oh, lothario Lenny, the loquacious ladies man, how the girls love that smoky...

Chris Jones 2002

Ah laughing Lenny, how we've missed your eloquent sadness and weary baritone. Back from the Buddhist retreat on Mount Baldy (no, really) after seven years of quiet contemplation, Mr Cohen returns with a new name (Jikan - given by his Buddhist teacher) and the latest news from the front line of the emotional wars. The news is much the same as it was way back then. Love is a mystery and all we can do is reflect on that enigma. Leonard is, after all the master of bearing those battle scars with dignity. So, if the more things change, the more they stay the same, why do we need Ten New Songs by the original bedsit bard? Over to the man, himself.

Oh, lothario Lenny, the loquacious ladies man, how the girls love that smoky voice. At 67 the tones remain world-worn. Indeed, Cohen is the finest example of a man who has grown into his public persona as time has passed, but the accompanying sound seems startlingly contemporary. The elements remain the same as his previous few albums - the soft nylon strings of a lone guitar replaced by digital keyboards and perfectly poised female backing vocals (provided by writing and performing partner Sharon Robinson). Yet the thing that always marks his work is the sense of removal from the North American singer songwriter tradition. The murmuring simplicity owes far more to the European chanson and, as a result, always appears far more personal. Torn from the pages of Leonard's heart and served up with startling honesty. This man has loved and lost plenty.

So, lilting Lenny serves us a diet of sex, love and ageing. Songs such as "A Thousand Kisses Deep" show that, Zen training or not, the carnal is still uppermost in the troubadour's mind: "Confined to sex, we pressed against the limits of the sea&I blessed our remnant fleet - and then consented to be wrecked, a Thousand Kisses Deep." Indeed, it's somehow heartening to hear how the man who epitomises intellectual philandering is still compelled to chronicle his conquests and defeats. "You Have Loved Enough", "Here It Is", "Love Itself", all concern themselves with the eternal questions surrounding the bonding of male and female and, despite the autobiographical shell, achieve a moving universality. And that is why we need Ten New Songs from lovelorn Lenny. "A sip of wine, a cigarette, and then it's time to go... " Until the next time.

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