Popular Problems review by Leonard Cohen

logo Ultimate Guitar
  • Released: Sep 19, 2014
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 8
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 8 Superb
  • Users' score: 9.2 (6 votes)
Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems

Sound — 8
Leonard Cohen has always been one to delve into thought provoking lyrical subjects, which throughout his nearly six decade long musical career has alternated through themes of religion, politics, philosophy and relationships, amongst others. Cohen is most readily recognized for the poetic phrases in his songs more so than his singing style, which is largely centered around gritty spoken word, and this stylistic approach stems from his earlier and sometimes controversial efforts as a novelist. Perhaps working as a musician provided more stylistic freedom as opposed to the artistic borderlines he experienced as a writer, but regardless of the inspiration behind his transition, Leonard Cohen has offered an extensive and prolific discography which continues with the release of his recent studio effort, "Popular Problems."

As the title implies, "Popular Problems" has Cohen offering a collection of songs more notable for his poetic phraseology than his actual musical performance. The majority of these recordings are centered upon Cohen's identifiable delivery; while that portion of the album would typically be recognized in the next segment of this review, considering it's weight in the actual sound of the album we're tackling this subject here. The overtly melodic choruses to such songs as "Did I Ever Love You" and "A Street" are handled by female backup singers, while an upbeat bluegrass picking style and violin playing accents the melancholy feel of the former, while the latter embodies a style which most accurately represents a New York City blues persona. Cohen then takes his time during the verses, not in quite a hurry to quicken the lyrical deliver above your normal talking pace, yet whenever he speaks you're compelled to listen.

To say that Leonard Cohen doesn't play a predominant role in the musical variety found on "Popular Problems" would almost guaranteed be an inaccurate statement, just because of the broad compilation of styles which appear of the album. Keeping in mind the two frontiers which the aforementioned selections cross into, "Almost Like the Blues" takes the atmosphere of a jazz-poetry reading and compiles it into a three minute track - you can almost breathe in the cigarette smoke when you're listening to it. "Samson in New Orleans" is a heavily emotional song with brooding piano accompaniment, while "My Oh My" introduces a swinging brass section ala a New Orleans marching band.

Lyrics — 8
This is an authentic Leonard Cohen studio album, through and through, which for experienced listeners already identifies the singing style of this effort. We don't find any radical primal screams or redefining death metal growls, only the gritty approach which has defined the past dozen or so efforts in Cohen's catalog. However, the content of his lyrics speaks louder than any other vocalist could belt them, and Cohen almost has to remain in his relaxed singing style so you can appreciate the depth of his work. As an example of the lyrics from this album, here are a few lines from "You Got Me Singing": "You got me singing, even tho' the news is bad/ You got me singing the only song I ever had/ You got me singing ever since the river died/ You got me thinking of the places we could hide/ You got me singing even though the world is gone/ You got me thinking I'd like to carry on/ You got me singing even tho' it all looks grim/ You got me singing the Hallelujah hymn."

Overall Impression — 8
In short, Leonard Cohen reinforces his ability to create memorable songs bracketed by thought provoking poetic lyrics on his new album, "Popular Problems." Despite his longevity, the 80-year old songwriter shows no sign of slowing down, however as he explains in the album's opening track, "It's not because I'm old, and it's not what dying does. I always liked it slow; slow is in my blood."

3 comments sorted by best / new / date

    It's sometimes hard to discuss Mr. Cohen's work without coming across as an acolyte, but that's possibly a virtue in a way. Cheers to the album and your well-written review.
    I like it a lot. Never mind has one of the best lyrics he's written in a long time. Hope to see him one more time around.
    This album is pretty solid. And he is canadian so I have even more respect for the man