Popular Problems - First Impressions

This section is dedicated to the new studio album and the Dublin concert video
alb123
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Popular Problems - First Impressions

Postby alb123 » Fri Sep 19, 2014 7:47 pm

I just finished listening to Popular Problems for the very first time. I don't want to really spoil anything for anyone. I know the complete lyrics are available and posted in this forum. So some of you may already be familiar with the subject matter of some of these songs. Anyway, I just wanted to throw some thoughts down on digital paper and perhaps as more of you get your copies of Popular Problems we can start discussing the individual tracks in more depth.

This album has a great opener in "Slow" and I think that really helped grab my attention compared to my first listen of Old Ideas. Slow is a nice blues tune, not exactly what one might expect if you were only familiar with his oldest albums (anything up to I'm Your Man, actually).

We've probably all heard "It's Almost Like The Blues" and I don't think I could say enough about the fantastic lyrics in this song. This is what I love about Leonard's songs - thought provoking lyrics that have your mind running in various directions as you fiddle with multiple interpretations. The backup girls are just wonderful.

Things really slow down for the start of "Samson In New Orleans". A sad, haunting hymn that features Leonard growling in places. The emotion runs deep in this song, from the gorgeous stringed instruments (violin?) to the harmonies Leonard sings with his backup girls. It's impossible not to have your mind fill with images of the tragedy that struck the city of New Orleans just a few years ago.

"A Street" is more reminiscent of Leonard's more recent work. Wordy and direct, yet it carries a wonderful backing beat. It's hard not to think that A Street was actually a poem before Leonard decided to set it to music, though I have no proof to justify such a claim.

"Did I Ever Love You" surprised me in many ways. First, it starts so slow with Leonard singing loud, like a man pouring his heart onto magnetic tape for a moody contemplative song and then without warning the song switches to a very quick tempo where the backing girls take over. We have this back and forth tennis match of words and it really blends into a song with several perspectives. Without giving away too much, I'll just say I liked it a lot.

Once again Leonard sings about a past love in "My Oh My". Lenny sure knows how to write heart touching lyrics without trying to be too fancy and then drop those words on top of complex rhythms just perfectly. My Oh My will never be considered Leonard's most mature lyrical work. In fact, the words are quite amateurish in some ways, but I think that's the point - he says what he says and he hammers it home. Quite clever if you ask me.

"Nevermind" is full of metaphors and religious chants and it's clear to see what Leonard is singing about in this song. From this one song I can see how he came up with the title of this album. He kept the music very simple on this track, in stark contrast to the complex verses he sings.

I have to admit I've never been the biggest fan of "Born In Chains". I don't know why. But I think you've all heard this song many times. I will admit that I do like this studio version more than the live versions I listened to on YouTube.

The album concludes with "You Got Me Singing" and it is a lovely song. A perfect closer for a Leonard Cohen album - especially considering Leonard's advanced age. It's hard not to become reflective over Leonard's entire career - the great body of work that he has bestowed upon us. He has gotten all of us singing and I pray that Leonard keeps singing for a long time.

Overall, I have to say that on just my first listen I think this album is a little more accessible than Old Ideas for a few different reasons. I didn't make this an in-depth review of any of the songs for the sole fact that most people in this forum will probably have to wait a few more days to hear the album and I don't want to spoil anything - but I thought some vague descriptions might be enough to get people excited with the release being right around the corner. While I don't think Old Ideas or Popular Problems will ever be ranked next to the truly great Leonard Cohen albums -- if you took the best pieces of each album and created a single piece, I think you most certainly could have a classic record that could go toe to toe with any previous work he has done.
Waterbury, CT - May 14, 2009
Las Vegas, NV - Dec 11, 2010 (Final Show of Leonard's 3 year World Tour) INCREDIBLE!
Boston, MA - Dec 15, 2012 (Best L.C. concert I've been to!)
RainDog1980
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Re: Popular Problems - First Impressions

Postby RainDog1980 » Fri Sep 19, 2014 11:16 pm

alb123 wrote: While I don't think Old Ideas or Popular Problems will ever be ranked next to the truly great Leonard Cohen albums -- if you took the best pieces of each album and created a single piece, I think you most certainly could have a classic record that could go toe to toe with any previous work he has done.
I had this very same thought.

If you took the strongest off of each one, and put them as one cohesive album, it would no doubt be considered a masterpiece.

I know that there was quite a gap between "Old Ideas" and "Dear Heather", but I feel that this album is really a return to form since releasing "The Future". The songs range from sweet to sombre to upbeat. "A Street" is quite an "aggressive" track. "My Oh My" is hands down my favorite.
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jerry
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Re: Popular Problems - First Impressions

Postby jerry » Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:49 am

I'm stunned at the vocals on Popular Problems. This album IS NOT Old Ideas part 2 despite the fact that both album covers have some things in common.
Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.
Leonard Cohen
JudasPriest
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Re: Popular Problems - First Impressions

Postby JudasPriest » Sat Sep 20, 2014 10:59 am

Stunned in a good or bad way?
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jerry
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Re: Popular Problems - First Impressions

Postby jerry » Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:12 pm

JudasPriest wrote:Stunned in a good or bad way?
Good way.
Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.
Leonard Cohen
alb123
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Re: Popular Problems - First Impressions

Postby alb123 » Mon Sep 22, 2014 2:13 am

jerry wrote:I'm stunned at the vocals on Popular Problems. This album IS NOT Old Ideas part 2 despite the fact that both album covers have some things in common.
I was very pleasantly surprised as well. I don't know why, probably because the albums were released so close to each other... Well, close for Leonard Cohen, I mean. Anyway, I just assumed that Popular Problems would have a similar 'feel' to it that Old Ideas had. If it did have an Old Ideas feel to it that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but I think people will be pleased when they hear this album for the first time. I've probably listened to the album from start to finish 12 or 15 times by now. For me, this album represents a Leonard Cohen who isn't finished working -- writing, recording, maybe even performing? Whereas Old Ideas felt, to me, to be a farewell type of album. I hope that makes some kind of sense.
Waterbury, CT - May 14, 2009
Las Vegas, NV - Dec 11, 2010 (Final Show of Leonard's 3 year World Tour) INCREDIBLE!
Boston, MA - Dec 15, 2012 (Best L.C. concert I've been to!)
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jerry
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Re: Popular Problems - First Impressions

Postby jerry » Mon Sep 22, 2014 2:23 am

alb123 wrote:
jerry wrote:I'm stunned at the vocals on Popular Problems. This album IS NOT Old Ideas part 2 despite the fact that both album covers have some things in common.
I was very pleasantly surprised as well. I don't know why, probably because the albums were released so close to each other... Well, close for Leonard Cohen, I mean. Anyway, I just assumed that Popular Problems would have a similar 'feel' to it that Old Ideas had. If it did have an Old Ideas feel to it that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but I think people will be pleased when they hear this album for the first time. I've probably listened to the album from start to finish 12 or 15 times by now. For me, this album represents a Leonard Cohen who isn't finished working -- writing, recording, maybe even performing? Whereas Old Ideas felt, to me, to be a farewell type of album. I hope that makes some kind of sense.
It makes perfect sense. Song for song Popular Problems is his best album since Ten New Songs. That was almost 15 years ago.
Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.
Leonard Cohen
JudasPriest
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Re: Popular Problems - First Impressions

Postby JudasPriest » Mon Sep 22, 2014 1:59 pm

Really enjoying the new album too. Old Ideas feels like more of a "big statement" but this one for me is a smoother and more enjoyable ride.
alb123
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Re: Popular Problems - First Impressions

Postby alb123 » Mon Sep 22, 2014 9:18 pm

JudasPriest wrote:Really enjoying the new album too. Old Ideas feels like more of a "big statement" but this one for me is a smoother and more enjoyable ride.
Exactly. Old Ideas really could be a swan song type of album and it would have been a VERY good one. It has that swan song type of feel to it. Like you said, it feels like Leonard was making a statement with that album and while I was wrong -- it wasn't his final album -- I will probably always get that feeling when I listen to Old Ideas.

I am really diggin' Popular Problems. I think "You Got Me Singing" is one of his best songs in at least his last 2-3 studio albums. It is such an upbeat, spirit lifting song. I was quite shocked to find out a Leonard Cohen album ended with a song like this. I think it was brilliant to place this song last. Overall, there are so many positives. I can't wait for the majority of people to get their CD's tomorrow and then start writing their opinions of the songs.
Waterbury, CT - May 14, 2009
Las Vegas, NV - Dec 11, 2010 (Final Show of Leonard's 3 year World Tour) INCREDIBLE!
Boston, MA - Dec 15, 2012 (Best L.C. concert I've been to!)
da2008
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Re: Popular Problems - First Impressions

Postby da2008 » Mon Sep 22, 2014 9:36 pm

I stayed away from the streams, went to Rough Trade and got a cd this morning, came home and gave it a proper first listen. I'm hooked and so happy to hear new songs and Leonard's voice on his new songs. Long may this continue.
JudasPriest
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Re: Popular Problems - First Impressions

Postby JudasPriest » Mon Sep 22, 2014 11:08 pm

Dylan is my first love and I can see something of a comparison between Old Ideas/PP and Time Out Of Mind/Love & Theft. Time was the big comeback embracing serious issues such as mortality while L&T felt more liberated and relaxed, like the pressure was off. I get that latter vibe from PP.
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phillip
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Re: Popular Problems - First Impressions

Postby phillip » Mon Sep 22, 2014 11:26 pm

love the reviews and I LOVE the album wow cant stop listening to it! :D :D :D my oh my
I have been a Leonard Cohen fan for 28 years feel free to email me if you wish to keep in touch!
John Etherington
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Re: Popular Problems - First Impressions

Postby John Etherington » Tue Sep 23, 2014 3:12 am

I bought my copy today for £10 at Fopp in London, and was pleased to see that the CD had a plastic case and booklet. I avoided all the streaming nonsense, and only listened to "Almost Like the Blues" a couple of times previously to get some hint of how it was sounding (I liked this song immediately). Thus, the album came as an almost totally fresh experience. I initially decided to listen once without reading the lyrics, so was freaked out when I found after some time that the songs appeared to be in a different order to how they were listed. I then found that for the first time in my life, I'd accidently hit the random button!

Overall the album sounds potent and fresh, with great musicianship and production. It's not so easy to liken tracks to former LC songs as it was with "Old Ideas", even if the last album may have had more tuneful songs. "However, Slow" definitely reminds me of Dylan on "Love and Theft and I could imaging him singing this song.

"Samson in New Orleans" is a strong track and was the first track to really impress me. The violin sounds wonderful on this, and I like the brass on the album. On first listen "A Street" with it's semi-spoken lyrics reminds me of "Anyhow". "Did I Ever Love You" is perhaps my favourite track on first listen. It's very effective to hear Leonard growl out his part, before the female vocals come in, and great they sound too! Dana Glover once again does a great job, as do the other musicians. Though it's odd not to hear the Webb Sisters, and most of the usual members of Leonard's band featured. That said, I've no doubt they'll do an excellent job with the material when they get to play it live.

I haven't properly processed the lyrics yet, but "My Oh My" drew my attention, despite it's apparent simplicity. "Nevermind" is perhaps my least favourite track, with it's repetitive beat, but I can see that it will appeal to some. If I had to compare it to anything, it would be "Different Sides". I'm rather sorry that Leonard intones rather than sings the first verse of "Born in Chains", because after hearing a couple of live versions on youtube, I feel that the first verse should be sung. It's still a fine track though. Finally, "You Got Me Singing" is a very tuneful and uplifting end to the album. It's miraculous that Leonard can release something so cutting edge, at the age of 80.
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Jean Fournell
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Re: Popular Problems - First Impressions

Postby Jean Fournell » Wed Sep 24, 2014 3:08 pm

After "Old Ideas", which depicts the way to one's own truth, there was either nothing to come anymore ("Different Sides" would have been quite sufficient for all the "Back to the marketplace" that one might wish for), or else Leonard Cohen being a monotheist it would needs be monotheism.

Now I'm an atheist (always have been, never had to go through any "anti-theism" in order to fight myself free from whichever religion), and when my time had come for a more formal spiritual practice, I encountered Soto-zen in the first place, thus never had to believe in things like koans and satori or Enlightenment and Buddha either. Just sit. For no reason, for no purpose, to no avail. Quite convenient for people like me.

But it also means that monotheism is not really my cup of tea. When I heard that there was indeed a new album coming up, I hoped I would like it, in spite of its monotheism.

Then there was the pre-release of "Almost Like The Blues", and it seemed to me that I needn't worry. This song alone was worth an entire album already, and who would be so foolish as to send the very best song as a forerunner, the rest afterwards necessarily being a disappointment!

And then this high-quality streaming of the whole album! Tantamount to giving it away for free. Listen, and if you don't like it, don't buy it. And if you have no money, bootleg it. Want an example of generosity? Well, that's one.

Right from the start, it was clear for me that "Popular Problems" is great. And that it would take some time to find out just how great it is. Fortunately, Leonard Cohen seems to know that, too, and therefore released precisely "Almost Like The Blues" as a forerunner. Here the thoroughly structured consistency of the text is easily visible. And so the message is comprehensible enough: there's some brainwork required.

1 — Slow

Only a few weeks ago I re-read Sten Nadolny's "The Discovery of Slowness" (Die Entdeckung der Langsamkeit, 1983). So I happened to be tuned in...

"I'm lacing up my shoe / But I don't want to run"

Ever tried to be lacing up your shoe while you're lacing up your shoe?
Without being running already, while filling in your income declaration, and doing your shopping, and having breakfast, and a few love affairs, and washing your laundry, all at the same time?
Just lacing up your shoe?

2 — Almost Like The Blues

I already said something here: viewtopic.php?f=82&t=35282&start=75

3 — Samson in New Orleans

What a nasty and outrageous hacked-off ending:
like the tape was cut at too early a point
like an electricity failure had cut the song at the wrong time
like the power that is failing Samson, once his hair is cut off
like the power cut in New Orleans
like the power (police and "the Son" Bush jr.) refusing to do their duty towards the victims
like Samson's suicide crumbling of the temple
sudden like the victims' deaths.

Cheap and botched production? Really? Well...

It still gives me the shivers that after the first few listens to "Almost Like The Blues" I scribbled down that quickie (linked above, written within two weeks) named Deadly Cold, beginning with "Put charity above the law"...

4 — A Street

"You left me with the dishes / And a baby in the bath"

Nobody in that position, man or woman, wants war, nor civil war of whichever kind (not even between two red-white-blue flags)

"I'll be standing on this corner / Where there used to be a street"

After the bombing, after some attack, after surviving after a breakthrough, after a depression, after the spiritual certainties are gone.

When the only ground under your feet is the one you're putting there. And even that one hiding from your view...

5 — Did I Ever Love You

"And is it still raining / Back in November"

What a tender question in this dear old-age love song.
How carefully and gently phrased by one in December!

"It's Spring and it's Summer / And it's Winter forever"

Very different from Gibran Khalil Gibran's "seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears".

6 — My Oh My

Another old-age love song. As beautiful as the previous one, as haunting, but quite another view:

"All the boys are waving / Trying to catch your eye"

Granddaughter or great-granddaughter beginning to use her own wings? Well, I'd say both of them, all of them.
"More sad", Leonard Cohen's zen-teacher reportedly counselled. Well, this is "more sad". But not sentimental. My Oh My Oh My.

Letting her go, actively ("Drove you to the station"), letting them go, letting the world go (preparing "You got me singing / Even though the world is gone"), giving her, and them, and it, his blessing.

And I can't help feeling that it also is (Love and Union being rarely separable) a bit of letting God go, too, for Him to encompass the realm of unknowing, which belongs to His Reality, but not to ours.

It is legitimate for a monotheist to add (explicitly: two songs later) "Blessed be the Name", and it is legitimate for an atheist to deeply bow to that in silence. Because here we are not confronted with some unbearably empty commonplace formula, used "in vain".

7 — Nevermind

"I took my gun and vanished"

I can't say more for the time being. This song is too powerful for a quick word.

8 — Born In Chains

Ok, it is unfinished.

"And all my teachers told me / That I had myself to blame"

Presumably that's what they call tough luck. I met a few teachers of that kind, but never had to take them seriously. There were always others, too. And I'm old enough to know what that means. And to be grateful for it. Because I've seen the havoc they can cause. Often enough it's really difficult to repair. And tends to leave deep traces.

But:

"The Name be blessed
Written on my heart
In burning letters
That's all I know
I cannot read the rest"

"But in the Grip
Of Sensual Illusion
A sweet unknowing
Unified the Name"

Here I can join in, no problem. I cannot read it either, and I don't know either. This is the fundamental recognition that we are inside the world, for good, with no possibility of having a look at it from outside. That we can't manipulate God. And that we have permission to not even try to manipulate Him.
Seen from a thoroughly monotheist side it's quite obviously not really different than seen from a thoroughly atheist side. My impression is that this "thoroughly" is the basic reason for the similarity...

And:

"Only darkness now
To lift the Longing up"

Non-koan: What's the difference between this darkness and the one "that tore the light apart"?

Ok, "Born In Chains" is unfinished.
That's a good thing.
Because even the purest oil won't give any light if there's no wick in one's lamp.

9 — You Got Me Singing

What a long way from "You who must leave everything that you cannot control",

through "I learned that love was out of my control",

through "All Your praises they shall ring / If it be Your will / To let me sing"
(the very first time that I can share a prayer, and whole-heartedly so even if it still contains quite some rust left by that old hook i will reward You if..., with deliberate i and Y)

through "But he does say what I tell him",

to "You got me singing" !

This is far beyond monotheism, or polytheism, or atheism. Those are details, at best, like a person being left-handed or right-handed, or of this or that colour of eyes or skin. They are part of us (if indeed they are), but part only.

This is being what one is. This is a long path travelled. This is where we all go, where we all are, always have been, each and everyone.

This is humankind singing.
___________________________________________________
Therefore know that you must become one with the bow, and with the arrow, and with the target
to say nothing of the horse.

... for a while
... for a little while...

(Just a filthy beggar blessing / What happens to the heart)
Tchocolatl
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Re: Popular Problems - First Impressions

Postby Tchocolatl » Wed Sep 24, 2014 6:23 pm

I already gave my first impression : holograms. Powerful.

Now, I go silent because, first, I do believe that time is needed to go properly "through the layers of time" that are those holograms, and second : I do believe that more time is needed.

In regard of the intimate speech that he delivers to each one of us (instantaneously) all the same and all different, these two lines "And is it still raining / Back in November" are carrying me toward one beautiful song of memory that is Jardin d'hiver interpreted by Henri Salvador. Which is absolutely not Cohenesque. But has nonetheless a kinship in my (call it bizarre if you feel like it) personal sphere.
Je voudrais du soleil vert
Des dentelles et des théières
Des photos de bord de mer
Dans mon jardin d'hiver

Je voudrais de la lumière
Comme en Nouvelle Angleterre
Je veux changer d'atmosphère
Dans mon jardin d'hiver

Ta robe à fleur
Sous la pluie de novembre
Mes mains qui courent
Je n'en peux plus de l'attendre
Les années passent
Qu'il est loin l'âge tendre
Nul ne peut nous entendre

Je voudrais du Fred Astaire
Revoir un Latécoère
Je voudrais toujours te plaire
Dans mon jardin d'hiver

Je veux déjeuner par terre
Comme au long des golfes clairs
T'embrasser les yeux ouverts
Dans mon jardin d'hiver

Ta robe à fleur
Sous la pluie de novembre
Mes mains qui courent
Je n'en peux plus de l'attendre
Les années passent
Qu'il est loin l'âge tendre
Nul ne peut nous entendre
While being at it... Now if you want to hear it. And dance on it maybe. It is there :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFkUVik35U8
***
"He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love."

Leonard Cohen
Beautiful Losers

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