Leonard Cohen: Ten New Songs

Leonard Cohen: Ten New Songs

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Leonard Cohen

Album: Ten New Songs
Label: Columbia

From 1994 to 1999, poet and novelist turned singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen resided at a Buddhist retreat on California's Mt. Baldy. There, he was given the Dharma name Jikan, meaning "the silent one," a name he seems to have taken too much to heart on Ten New Songs, his first studio album since 1992's The Future. On the albums that closely preceded his self-imposed hiatus, Cohen increasingly explored the tension between his inimitable voice and lyrics and arrangements that sounded like they'd been pre-programmed into a thrift-store Yamaha keyboard. Oddly enough, the style mostly worked: Cohen's raspy doomsaying and romantic disillusion held their own against tinny synths and female harmonies so emotionless that they might have been left over from a Robert Palmer session. On Ten New Songs, however, he seems to have lost the battle. Produced by former backup singer Sharon Robinson—who also co-writes the songs, performs nearly every instrument, and shares the cover with Cohen—Songs captures its star in an extremely sleepy mood. Going easy on both the metronome and the amps, the album is so quiet and slow that it's almost subliminal. Virtually nothing registers, and what does registers only as easy-listening dross. Even Cohen's generally dependable lyrics here sound like a mishmash of reworked spiritual notions from past recordings, with Christ, Babylon, crosses, and nails popping up with a regularity not usually found outside of religious tracts. Cohen's career has seen its share of wrong turns and misguided ventures, but this is the first time he's sounded less than vital. Anyone with such a formidable catalog of songs can rest on his laurels as long as he likes, but if Cohen wants to turn out something new, especially after such a long absence, he should let himself be heard.