Popular Problems Don’t Repeat

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The first song of Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems sets the tone—and pace—for the rest of the album.  “Slow” says it all. There are no dance numbers on Popular Problems—some jazz, some blues, but no songs to dance to.  Songs like “My Oh My” are the standard for Cohen’s new direction, minimalism with horns and background singers—all working together brilliantly. It is still clearly minimalistic, reminiscent of Songs from a Room in its essence, but with others, while leaving Cohen unencumbered at the microphone.  This new phase, one almost fully worked out in 2012 with Old Ideas, gives us the most haunting album of Cohen’s career.

Singing like a Prisoner in a Jail

The main thing about Popular Problems is if you catch a line in passing and want to hear it again, you may have to listen to the whole album through...carefully.  Cohen is not into refrains in this release.  It’s a lot like his poetry, which his music not always has been, so that lines like “It’s almost like the blues” is both a great song line and an amazing line of poetry, given its kin words. There’s always a shadow or an echo of a vibrant chorus.

The last two album covers have had prominent shadows, as have the last two albums. Popular Problems has been the best bit of poetry to come from Cohen for years, shadows and all. “Samson in New Orleans” and “A Street”? Come on? This is poetry. It just happens that you hear it in your home.  “I held you for a little while,” says Cohen—brilliant minimalist.

Born in Chains

This album is religious. If you have liked Cohen in the past you will like him now, though.  He’s always been that way, that Buddhist guy who writes about the Bible. “Your love was so confusing,” he says. All of Popular Problems is line by line, like a good poem. There is no easy song on Popular Problems. You have to listen and think.  Lines will stick with you, but you may have to search them out because there is very little repetition with Cohen.

http://www.leonardcohen.com

AH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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