Old Ideas arrived in our Flipkart package last weekend. It was on the iPod within the hour, ready to be listened to as an accompaniment to the routine of life – a quick listen as project files rendered on the computer, at night before drifting off to sleep, while grating fresh ginger for afternoon tea. What I quickly discovered was this – you don’t listen to Leonard Cohen while making tea. You don’t play it in the background as you wait for a file transfer to finish. You don’t take it to the gym to battle the light techno on the house speakers. You just don’t multi-task a Leonard Cohen song.
I listened to the entire album in one sitting last night while doing nothing else. It was worth the wait. The spare arrangements and intimate vocal performance make it ideal for listening to on headphones. The pace forces you to slow your own thoughts down to a more manageable level. And then there is The Voice.
Since the arrival of AutoTune (and American Idol) all the attention has been focused on a vocalist’s ability to be pitch perfect or lack thereof. Listening to Old Ideas relegates such technicalities to the far background and brings into sharp focus the thing that truly makes a voice compelling – the ability to skillfully communicate. Cohen’s exquisite baritone comes with a whisper, lamentation, resignation, devoutness, mischief and, at its most charming, with some gentlemanly profanity and a healthy dose of light teasing.
Will I listen to the entire album in its entirety on a regular basis? I’m not sure. Not all the songs are equal and I already have my favourites which will go into repeat play. However, if only to reset your understanding of what truly makes a compelling vocal performance, I recommend that Old Ideas must be heard. Preferably while doing nothing else.
Here’s my favourite off the album: