Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems (2014)

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He remains a mystery, as misunderstood as his most famous song, as purposeful in his third act as he is utterly aware of the creeping shadows all around. There is, in keeping, both a moody dispair and a remarkable sense of accepting endurance about Leonard Cohen’s new album Popular Problems.

Songs like “Almost Like the Blues” seem to find comfort in this strangely unsettling place between safety and free fall, between salvation and certain doom. There was always that sense of Cohen being a man among boys, the legendary old soul, and he’s only become more comfortable in that crisply pressed suit (the one you can imagine him wearing as the coffin closes) into his 80th year. Cohen pulls no punches, bluntly admits things, sends listeners off into dark places.

And yet Popular Problems retains his unique ability to draw you in closer, to give you a little without giving you everything. Half of this might be about death, the other half about love. Or maybe, when you dig into things like “Did I Ever Love You” and “A Street,” it’s both. To the end, Cohen has been an enigma and, though he’s not given enough credit for it, someone who often says more about us than he says about himself — as in moments like “Samson in New Orleans” and “Born in Chains.”

The production, just it was on 2012’s impishly titled Old Ideas, can be a touch too modern. (Looking at you, synthy “Nevermind.”) But Cohen works as the needed sandpaper. His voice — still a wonder of baritone sadness, still perfectly suited for these damaged yet inspiring narratives — simply has no bottom.

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