Leonard Cohen is a rare thing: a pop grandfather who just gets better with age

It’s somehow fitting that Cohen’s new album should be due on the last day of January. It catches the despondency of the first month of the year while being in that almost-glorious period when you’re not quite so skint and the new dawn of February is near. Cohen tends to find some humour, however black and however resigned, in his darkness (and the darkness does tend to be greatly overstated anyway). He is very rarely difficult to listen to; very frequently witty, provocative, entertaining and moving. Sometimes all in the same song. He also often manages a righteous ire about the world without drawing the wrath of those who dislike ‘statements’. His live album from London a couple of years back is one of my all-time favourites – after 2 hours in his company you wish it was a regular engagement.

This piece raises the question of whether the ‘old’ can write pop. I always find this to be a very strange thing to ask, involving so many assumptions and pre-conceptions (the number of young artists making dreadful pop surely dwarves the number of old ones?) With classic songwriters of the kind Jones lists, it seems obvious that their new songs would reflect their advancing years and younger listeners would perhaps struggle to find things in them to identify with. However artists like Bowie, Dylan, Elton John and McCartney have certainly produced great albums past their 50s – indeed, it’s of note that they are all of a generation which tended towards producing their worst material in the 80s when they were in their late 30s and 40s. If there is any narrative to be had of this generation (who are, lest we forget, those who largely blazed the trail for ‘pop’ as we currently understand it) it is of a rise, a reign, a decline and finally a satisfied and satisfying acceptance of their position, status and age.

Such questions do always tend to involve the ‘classic’ songwriters and ignore artists who continue to be ‘current’ on the pop charts. Madonna’s ‘Hung Up’ and ‘4 Minutes’, released when she was 47 and 50 respectively, are (chart-wise) the most successful singles of her career. For all the debates over when artists such as she, U2, Prince or REM were at their peak, few without pre-determined chips would claim they had produced nothing of note in their latter years. There can be no doubt that as time progresses, the number of middle-aged and ‘old’ artists on the charts is only going to increase – from Kylie and Jennifer Lopez in the next decade through to Gaga, Beyonce and Rihanna, it would be a fool who bets against more and more great pop being produced by near-pensioners in the next thirty years.

The neat response to the question? Cohen was 50 when he released ‘Hallelujah’, the song which 20 years later became a number one for Alexandra Burke. Few would have anticipated such a thing at the time – who knows what treasures pop artists of the future might find on his new album?

Leonard Cohen is a rare thing: a pop grandfather who just gets better with age

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