Leonard Cohen has experimented with numerous musical styles -- from folk to jazz to new wave -- and poetic devices throughout his storied half-century-long career.

But he has hardly ever been as direct, both lyrically and musically, as he is on his stunning new album "Old Ideas" (Columbia). The result is a rare instant classic, like Bob Dylan's "Time Out of Mind" or Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska," an album that both captures a moment and can stand against anything else in his career.

He opens "Old Ideas" with "Going Home," a brilliant piece of storytelling that The New Yorker saw fit to run as a poem. It's sung in the first person by a higher being that explains how Cohen is a flawed but useful messenger ("a sportsman and a shepherd, he's a lazy bastard living in a suit") and points out how Cohen isn't in control of the message. It also sets up the album's streamlined mix of folk and gospel.

The gorgeous "Crazy to Love You" is accompanied only by an acoustic guitar plucked so passionately that the emotion resonates in the note, just like Cohen's delivery of memorable lines ("I'm old and the mirrors don't lie," he declares. "But crazy has places to hide in that are deeper than any goodbye") that rank with Cohen classics like "Hallelujah" or "Bird on the Wire."

The melody of "Lullaby" shows Cohen isn't through with innovations just yet -- another way his "Old Ideas" outclass so many new ones being developed today.


"Old Ideas"


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BOTTOM LINE Stunningly simple, incredibly deep and destined to be a classic