If there’s anything worth praising Leonard Cohen for, it’s his honesty. Through each of “Old Ideas'” 10 tracks, Cohen is excellently and tastefully expressive. It’s in expressiveness that it intends to contribute to our mores in a manner that is honest.
With a title like “Old Ideas,” one would think their ear would be in for an exhausting grassroots folk trip, in which every song has a moral. And in a way, “Old Ideas” is just that. Cohen presents thoughtful ideas alongside his own personal, poetic musings — ideas that are presented in such a basic fashion to be instilled in the listener. Take, for instance, the “Come Healing” predominant chorus: “Come healing of the spirit / Come healing of the limb.” This chorus seems to be a lesson, although an old-fashioned one.
“Lullaby” and “Different Sides” also contribute to “Old Ideas'” mores.
The album’s truthfulness and moral sensibility often come out in seemingly stream-of-consciousness crooning. On top of that, it’s rather bleak. “Going Home” presents Cohen as drunk, desperate, even pathetic, “going home” in order to clean up “where it’s better than before.” “Amen” follows up in much the same tradition as its predecessor; Cohen is in a state that is a self-claimed “horror,” only to chant “Amen.”
The musical atmosphere of “Old Ideas” is a strange one, perhaps eerie. “Amen” holds the largest instrumental section on the album, clocking at 7 1/2 minutes. In such a time, a jazzy, reverberated horn bellows above a soulful chorus to be matched by a flowing violin. There’s a keyboard-produced string section (or organ? or at least an instrument that sounds like it) that serves as primary instrumentation on “Going Home” and “Come Healing” that almost seems too corny for today’s music. However, its use is minimal and serves as a nuance to Cohen’s croon and lyrics.
There’s nothing abstract that makes Cohen distinct. It’s arguably Cohen’s voice — his croon that’s too addicting to be referred to as a croak. His rough, old voice (which can probably be attributed to a life that consisted of doing the things he mentioned on this album) is what lures or shakes away listeners. As such, his voice is his lyrics — it is reflective and exemplary of his lyricism and truly honest. “Old Ideas” is that, even in its grimace and peculiarity.