Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems
By Ian Cunningham
Leonard Cohen recently celebrated his birthday by releasing a new album, Popular Problems, the day after turning eighty. That’s right, EIGHT-ZERO. Thirteen years past the normal retirement age in the United States. And you know what? The album is good.
In fact, Popular Problems is surprisingly good considering the recent spate of bland albums from gray-hairing musicians of the 1960-1970 heyday. While many of his peers, such as Paul McCartney for instance, are either still attempting to stay young and trendy or just spitting out boring reiterations of their early oeuvre (I’m looking at you Black Sabbath), Cohen fully embraces the early bird special, making a record that reflects his newly minted 7pm bed time.
“It’s not because I’m old and it’s not what dying does. I always liked it slow…,” he sings on the opening track “Slow,” challenging every young man listening to whip it out and compare sizes. This may be an album about being old, but this old man’s still got some fire down below. And yet it is surprisingly non-nostalgic. There are no songs to be found that praise Cohen’s glory days or reflect back on his last eight decades with a patronizing, “back in my day” tone.
The songs on Popular Problems are just as sorrowfully romantic as the Cohen of Hotel Chelsea, but all that mileage and his recent return to smoking have added some gravel to his distinct voice. If these songs were on shuffle among other weathered singer-songwriters, I would have guaranteed that it was Tom Waits singing on “Did I Ever Love You.”
It’s not the most exciting album you will hear this year; it’s not ground-breaking in terms of instrumentation and I doubt any of the tracks will make the cut for an eventual Still More Best Of album, but it is still a beautiful piece of work that contextualizes a specific time within one individual’s life. It is an album that arguably cements Cohen as being more relevant within the 21st Century than his rival Bob Dylan. To paraphrase another of Cohen’s former contemporaries, he’ll sleep when he’s dead. – (6/10)