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“Slow” opens and sets the tone — not, oddly enough, a tone of “slow” but a statement of intense personal vision, with humor, with openness, but only partial openness. This is how I’m doing things, the auteur says through the song, you better get used to it. Slow, as a tone, flows from mama getting him ready for school, to a lover (I’m presuming that’s the “you”) prodding him forward. No dice. The old and the new refuse the accelerations of Western life, whether that “you” is sex, a sandwich, a sunset, online life, real-life death. Not that I don’t cherish you darling, but this is me. This is what I’ll ever be.

Well-put, well-entitled, hell, you might never notice him singing a woman’s story in “A Street.” Layers unwrap themselves to the fragile mummy underneath — thank Cohen’s trademark rasp, sure, but honor Alexandru Bublitchi’s violin, suitable for summoning haints in a disused boneyard; and the ever-present sweet, aerosolized background singers (here, Charlean Carmon, Dana Glover, Donna Delory) jumping out in front of the master’s prow, slipping into his wake, bustling in his flow, and in the case of “Nevermind,” interjecting in an unknown (to me anyway) tongue.

He’s still singing we lost the war, just taking it more personal. “Nevermind”’s erotic, spiritual refugee finds the time, mid-intrigue, for “I could not kill/ The way you kill/ I could not hate/ I tried I failed…” In the middle of uncertainty and resignation to uncertainty, comes a failure we can applaud. Take it in. Slow.

  • Album: Popular Problems
  • Artist: Leonard Cohen
  • Label: Columbia
  • Songs: (1) Slow (2) Almost Like the Blues (3) Samson in New Orleans (4) A Street (5) Did I Ever Love You (6) My Oh My (7) Nevermind (8) Born in Chains (9) You Got Me Singing
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