Leonard Cohen opens up about new album Popular Problems

Singer reveals that eight of the album’s songs were co-writes – and his only solo effort is the track he is least sure about

Leonard Cohen has opened up about his upcoming 13th album, revealing that most of Popular Problems’ “musical ideas” came from someone else: Patrick Leonard, who co-wrote eight of the LP’s nine songs.

“It was a very agreeable collaboration because of an absence of ego and an abundance of musical ideas on Patrick’s part,” Cohen explained during a recent talk at the Canadian consulate in Los Angeles (via Billboard). Leonard, a keyboard player and New Age artist, has previously produced and composed music for Elton John, Madonna, Bryan Ferry and Rod Stewart. He also co-wrote four songs on Cohen’s 2012 album, Old Ideas. “Most of the musical ideas were Patrick’s, with a bit of modification,” Cohen said. “Whether there were horns or violin, all of those things were decided mutually … I would have a rhythm in mind and … I had the function of the veto.”

Some of the songs on the new record came together at “shockingly alarming speed”, Cohen said, and the duo have already finished “half of another” LP. This is unusual, Cohen said, because most of the time, a song will only “yield itself if you stick with it long enough … [and] you’ve got to stick with it for a very long time”. The track A Street, for example, had been in progress since shortly after 9/11.

The song Born in Chains took even longer: Cohen had apparently been working on the lyrics for about 40 years. “I’ve rewritten it many times to accommodate a change in my theological position,” the 79-year-old said. It was the only song on the album written without Leonard, and is the only song Cohen confessed to being “not 100% behind”, though he added that playing it 200 or 300 times at shows would see him get it perfect.

“I didn’t nail it, but I’ve got a thumbtack in it,” Cohen said. “We came up with this pure gospel version.”

Popular Problems is out on 23 September.


Sean Michaels

The GuardianTramp

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