There’s an old man whispering to himself in a corner. Nobody pays him any attention, but he keeps on singing; and gradually he’s joined by other musicians: a soft-touch percussionist who shush-shushes a brush across a drumskin; a guitar that gently weeps, and then a couple of women who sing in ethereal voices like far-off angels. And gradually, though you don’t want to listen, you are drawn in, you start to pay attention and you realise that this man knows something ; this man is a prophet; this man, who looks like an anorexic King Lear, is not mad but some kind of guru. And now you know who it is: this man is Leonard Cohen, and he is singing his latest LP, ‘Popular Problems.’
I always look forward to a new Cohen album, and yet I feel no small measure of trepidation when I put it on to listen. Will he be the same? Or will he have lost it? It would hardly be surprising if at nearly 80, Cohen had lost his voice: but the reason I keep listening is that he never does. He follows it through desert and wilderness; he tracks it through trackless rocks and over impenetrable forests; through uncharted waters of bitter despair he follows still and he keeps following until he finds it. So that a new Cohen LP is more than a collection of songs; it’s an encounter; a revelation. Where is he at now? What is he thinking, what is he feeling? It’s constantly fascinating, and will continue to be so until he dies.
Which might be any day now – and yet he keeps on going.
Have a listen: