Weekend Australian, Australia
3-4 November 2001

Ten New Songs

by David Brearley

Contributed by Paul Koerbin

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A decade has passed since Leonard Cohen recorded The Future, which makes it more or less prehistoric. He has spent most of the years since then in a monastery on Mount Baldy in southern California, tending his teacher's needs and fine-tuning his mantra. Nobody expected another album and none was promised, so this one is cause for gratitude, if not, finally, elation. The 10 new songs to which the title so neatly alludes are co-written with, and arranged, performed and produced by Sharon Robinson, who had a hand in "Waiting for the Miracle" (from The Future) and the incomparable "Everybody Knows" (I'm Your Man). They're slow, smooth, almost self-consciously plain - borderline muzak really, which isn't a departure for the old buzzard so much as an extension of his natural inclinations. "I'm back on Boogie Street" is a recurring lyric.

Earthly pleasures remain the abiding concern. And Cohen's low notes still register somewhere beneath the solar plexus. But the next chord isn't the revelation it once was; there's something missing, something muted. Cohen's best work was always slow to reveal itself and his back catalogue is full of sleepers, making criticism a fraught exercise. It may be that 10 years on, the prayer mat has left him a little rusty. Or that after 68 years on the planet, he's already given us his best.

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