VH1.com, US
November 2001

Leonard Cohen: Ten New Songs

by John Milward

Contributed by Kelley Lynch, Stranger Management and Friends

Close Window to Return to Menu

Ten New Songs is Leonard Cohen's first collection of fresh material since 1992's The Future. In the interim, the 67-year-old writer of such folk-pop classics as "Suzanne" and "Bird on a Wire" spent five years at a Zen retreat near Mount Baldy, California, where he is reported to have answered to the name "Jikan," which translates as "Silent One." Coming down from the mountain with some 250 new poems, Cohen created his new songs in collaboration with producer/keyboardist Sharon Robinson, who programmed and performed the musical tracks, and who shadows Cohen's gravely, whispered-word vocals with her own softly soulful voice.

Truth be told, Cohen's lyrics have frequently trumped his melodies, so the collaboration is not unwelcome. But don't expect to find yourself humming these slow, doleful tunes, as there's little friction in Robinson's gently rippling electronic pop. (Robinson has toured as a backup singer for a number of performers, including Cohen and Ann-Margaret; besides previous songwriting collaborations with Cohen and Brenda Russell, she's best known for being a co-author of Patti Labelle's "New Attitude.") The arrangements don't amplify as much as simply frame the words, which are as artful as any you'll find in pop. Consequently, it's not inappropriate to think of Ten New Songs as an audio book of poetry with musical accompaniment.

Cohen's lyrical poems mix the spiritual with the secular. "Boogie Street" returns the seeker to the temporal world: "I'm wanted at the traffic jam, they're saving me a seat/ I'm what I am, and what I am/ Is back on Boogie Street." On "In My Secret Life", he copes with life in Babylon: "I bite my lip, I buy what I'm told/ From the latest hit, to the wisdom of old/ But I'm always alone and my heart is like ice/ And it's crowded and cold in my secret life."

Love is central, but not easily grasped. It's beautifully evoked on the otherwise elegiac "Alexandra Leaving": "Upheld by the simplicities of pleasure, they gain the light, they formlessly entwine/ And radiant beyond your wildest measure, they fall among the voices and the wine." On "You Have Loved Enough," the poet cedes to a greater power: "I am not the one who loves/ It's love that chooses me/ When hatred with his package comes/ You forbid delivery."

In "The Land of Plenty", Cohen offers a kind of prayer for the material world: "Don't really know who sent me to raise my voice and say/ May the lights in the land of plenty shine on the truth some day." Ten New Songs is an autumnal collection filled with wisdom. Cohen's music might be earth-bound, but his poetic spirit soars.

Close Window to Return to Menu