It is, perhaps, unfortunate timing that the Adam Cohen, the son of Leonard Cohen, should release his new album ‘When We Go Home’ just a couple of weeks before his father’s. Not least since Adam sounds awfully like the young Leonard, that the album was recorded in his childhood homes in Montreal and the Greek island of Hydra, and that many of the songs relate to conversations with his old man (and those he wants to have with his own son). Or indeed, that one of them specifically (and playfully) references the line ‘first we take Manhattan’ and another Hallelujah.
That said, whatever living ghosts may haunt it, this is very much an album by Cohen Jr, not Cohen Sr., embracing the family tradition and heritage, but shaping it in his own form. There’s more of a rootsy/country feel in places too, whereas dad’s work is more steeped in folk, blues and jazz.
Working with his live three piece band and string trio, it’s an uncluttered affair that relies predominantly on nylon string guitar and piano, opening with Songs Of Me And You, one of many dealing with matters of the heart, Cohen’s smooth-smoky voice crooning over the line ‘don’t sing of love as if it’s broken’. Too Real keeps the romantic melancholy, a simple snare beat underpinning a number that, on the verses, has him sounding exactly like his father in timbre and delivery, echoing the same open confessional tone as he says “You’re always so faithful, I’m a flake and flirt”.
The title track has traces of Mumford to the uptempo strummed folk rock melody with handclaps and a female backing chorus on a song that sounds as much about him talking about how he acts around his dad (“So we both sing What we both know And when the song is over We go home”) as around the woman in question.
Another father and son themed track, Put Your Bags Down is the first knockout number, a slow picked, cracked-voice, soulful, country inflected number that gradually builds around the anthemic refrain “the train is always on time, the trick is to be ready to put your bags down”.
Loose limbed, So Much To Learn is a simple strings-brushed, but deeply-felt self-reflective strum about the lessons you need to learn about life and parenthood (“you’ve got to carry your father’s name and hope your children do the same”) and leads into the First We Take Manhattan (and 9/11)-referencing Uniform, a handclap, march-beat raise your voice protest anthem about how we’re all part of one world.
Cynics should probably steer clear of Love Is, another handclap beat number packed with lines about how love is “the most beautiful word”, “a faded sign that you don’t see sometimes” and “a church that doesn’t hate”, but, riding on an organ backing, it rises above the accusations of cliché.
Opening as a speak-song piano ballad and punctuated with a funky guitar riff, the final stretch gets underway with the speak-sing piano ballad What Kind Of Woman, its core and chorus line “in the name of all that’s mighty, give me love Aphrodite” very much evocative of his father’s lothario charisma.
Well aware of the comparison game, on the gentle Fall Apart he sings “I will speak like my father, when he’s not around, you’ll be hearing his voice, like you’re hearing it now”, but the mortality and legacy message (“something old must end so something new can start”) is as universal as it is personal.
I was initially unsure of the piano ballad Swear I Was There, the album’s longest track, its assignation missed lyrics initially coming across as self-pitying (“tore my umbrella right before it rained”), but the more I listen the more its plea not to be forsaken delivers an emotional impact, swelling to a strings-lashed climax before the album ends with the brief acoustic guitar and strings lullaby, Boats as, pithily summing up life, he observes that “no one knows where the wind is blowing, everyone’s in for a big surprise”. Especially those who think that embracing your father’s shadow means you do not have one of your own.
Review by: Mike Davies
Out Now via Cooking Vinyl
Order via Amazon