Leonard Cohen’s popularity shows no signs of letting up, following several successful studio and concert tours since 2008 including last year’s Juno-winning Popular Problems. The former Buddhist monk’s status as a songwriter and performer is unparalleled. What else could follow after the extensive Old Ideas World Tour? A live rarities album with recordings from rehearsals and concerts.
The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient’s voice is as gravelly and seductive as ever right from the opener, the bristling rehearsal take of Field Commander Cohen. Its militaristic beat, flickering mandolin and soothing female harmonies shine despite the clinical recording, but Cohen clearly sounds at ease as if he has nothing left to prove. The bridge has a slight reggae twist to it too, continuing this carefree vibe on this sumptuous recording.
The live versions of I Can’t Forget (from 1988’s I’m Your Man) remains vital, vibrant and romantic, and Light as a Breeze feels luxurious. A live take of Night Comes On (from 1984’s Various Positions, you know that album spawning THAT song with an infinite number of covers) is bound to sweep listeners away with its sense of magnificence. Musically, there are darker shades that give way to lighter moments, marked by quaint guitar licks and an overall quality band performance.
The romantic moments are the standouts. A track from the revered Songs of Love and Hate, Joan of Arc, sounds wondrous in its duet form, showing off the gorgeous ‘la la la’ hook and stirringly rich vocal harmonies. The mood is so light and joyous that this would suit a wedding dance. French-Canadian love song La Manic was appropriately recorded in Quebec City, eliciting cheers from the excited audience. It exudes precision together with style, as it bounces and creeps like a cat tiptoeing towards a mouse.
The two new tracks show off Cohen’s bluesier side. Never Gave Nobody Trouble has Cohen going all gritty and soulful even during soundcheck, proving that there is no need to shout, yelp, growl or holler just to get his mood of anguish and defiance across. Lines like ‘couldn’t pay the mortgage’ haven’t sounded cooler or sexier. Got a Little Secret is equally as slinky and brutally honest.
A whimsical, country-esque cover of George Jones’ Choices is then followed by Cohen’s uproariously hilarious stage banter at the start of Stages, which reflects how Cohen sees himself at the ‘cute’ stage of old age. Unfortunately, it fades out before the full track can be heard, depriving listeners of much-deserved dessert.
The album’s sudden conclusion surely makes fans beg for more. However, there is little fault elsewhere on this live rarities collection that merely reinforces Cohen’s skill as a storyteller and entertainer.