(the University of British Columbia newspaper)
Tuesday, November 6, 2001
http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/pdfs ... _11_06.pdf
OLD SKIN FOR THE NEW CEREMONY
Ten New Songs
Leonard Cohen has descended from the mountain. He has meditated on life's deepest truths. He has found the river within. And now, after a nine-year recording silence, five of which were spent meditating atop Mt. Baldy as a Zen monk, the Montreal minstrel has released Ten New Songs, his 14th career album.
After all this gestation and contemplation, any listener is bound to expect some discernable shift in style...or worldview...or subject...or something. What is distinctive about this album, however, is how little of Cohen's sound has changed over his extended absence. Depending on one's Leonard experience, this could mean several things.
For the initiate, Ten New Songs is as good an introduction to the poet's work as Death of A Ladies Man or The Future. Take the typical Cohen-esque lyrics of "A Thousand Kisses Deep:" "The ponies run, the girls are young,/ The odds are there to beat."
In "That Don't Make it Junk" the veteran singer recalls homespun truths, singing warmly in his grizzled voice: "I fought against the bottle/ But I had to do it drunk/ Took my diamond to the pawnshop/ But that don't make it junk."
For the fan whose ears are generally impressed with the direction Cohen's recent career (1988 onwards) has taken, this album is also a worthwhile listen. In the opening song we are tipped off immediately that we are in familiar Cohen territory. "In My Secret Life" begins with the airy synth that has become the melodic backdrop behind most of Cohen's recent albums.
While employed masterfully on 1988's I'm Your Man, on 2001's Ten New Songs, the sound seems hackneyed and hollow. While the melody is "nice," it all feels too close to adult contemporary (think Kenny G) to appeal to any fan under 46.
Leonard enthusiasts — those who absorbed the lyrics and nuances of albums such as New Skin For The Old Ceremony, Songs From A Room and Various Positions will also find Ten New Songs dissapointing.
The recording is missing the spiritual introspection, the romantic longing and the self-deprecation that marks Cohen's best work. In short, it's light on Leonard.
Admittedly, Cohen has a heavy burden to bear as an artist. His verses are dissected like lab rats while die-hard fans hold stubbornly to impossible expectations.
Cohen tried his best to capture past glories, enlisting the help of his former backup singer and friend Sharon Robinson. She and Cohen co-wrote hits such as "Everbody Knows" and "Waiting for A Miracle." Long-time engineer/producer Leanne Ungar also worked on this album.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. Ten New Songs falls short in many ways. The only thing we can hope is that at 66 years old, this is not Leonard Cohen's final return to the recording studio.
— Ian Sonshine