Vinyl Review: Popular Problems by Leonard Cohen

Another Vinyl review. You’re welcome.

Today I’m reviewing Popular Problems by Leonard Cohen (one of my absolute favorite albums). It’s Cohen’s 13th studio album and was recorded when he was 80 (!). Popular Problems was released in 2014.

I got my copy from a local Barnes & Noble. It’s a single disc, ten track album.

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PHYSICAL IMPRESSIONS

  • This record is really light (160 grams most likely), and as it’s one of my most played albums, I worry about that sometimes.
    • Note: There’s no sound quality benefit to a thicker pressing inherently (there are some around the stability of the record for your needle and arm), but higher gram albums last longer, so I prefer it.
  • The record is a carbon black pressing, as I’ve noted I prefer. So great.
    • Note: Colored vinyls look cool, and are often thematic, but the carbon black increases the lasting power of the physical record itself, so I prefer that.
  • The cover leaves a bit to be desired. The colors strike me as weird, and they certainly don’t match the content of the album.

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TRACK LISTING

Of the 10 songs on the track, all  were written (at least collaboratively) by Cohen (which is normal).

SIDE A

  • Slow– I love this song. It’s focused, regular beat, and Cohen’s off-track vocals give such an authentic feel. The gravelly purr of his voice as he moves through this blues and rhythm infused track really sets the tone for for the rest of the album.
  • Almost Like the Blues – The lyrical talent on this song is incredible. Somehow the disparate words weave this perfect story, and the minimalist instrumental backing really drives home Cohen’s growl. Probably my second favorite song on the album.
  • Samson in New Orleans – A haunting song about loss and pain, and missed potential. This song continues the very stripped down feel of the album (the backing is there, but it’s so subtle, it pushes Cohen to the front).
  • A Street – A song focused on love and condemnation, somehow Cohen pulls anger, longing, pain and cynicism into a single ballad that covers all of those feelings well. A great song.
  • Did I Ever Love You? – Throughout the chorus, Cohen takes a backseat to his backing vocalists, who carry the song into what feels like uncharted territory on this album. The questioning nature of the song, and almost “bluesgrass” feel of the chorus seem jarring the first go around, but after a few listens, it all clicks.

SIDE B

  • My Oh My: Another great song (I’m going to say that a lot), and the languid pace of the instruments as Cohen meanders his way to the end gives this song a somewhat-unique feel throughout.
  • Nevermind: A bit more up-tempo than the previous few songs, Cohen returns to the signature growl of his later work on this track. There’s a deep bitterness on this track, echoing against a sense of loss.
  • Born in Chains: A great song and one that Cohen had been working on since the 1980s, the time it spent in gestation shows. A ballad in the truest sense, it showcases the troubadour-esque nature of Cohen’s earlier work.
  • You Got Me Singing: A melancholic tune closes out the album, with lyrics about lost love, and references to religion and hymns. True Cohen in the best sense, and an excellent ending song.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

I love this album. I’ve loved it since it came out, and I will continue to love it for years. Leonard Cohen is one of my favorite artists and this vinyl does not disappoint.

I do wish the pressing was of slightly better quality (I’d prefer 200 grams), but in the end, as long as I can buy a new copy when mine wears out (which it will), I am satisfied and happy!

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