Popular Problems is a gentle album for the most part as the opening track “Slow” would imply. However, songs such as “Did I Ever Love You” flirt with a faster tempo in places.
The nine tracks are as poetic as one would expect from Cohen. The lyrics of each song could be isolated and admired even without music. The words themselves each carry their own rhythm, like on “Nevermind”, Cohen grumbling, “I had to leave/My life behind/I dug some graves/You’ll never find”. However, that being said, the melodies themselves play more of a part in Popular Problems than they have in previous albums. In “Samson in New Orleans”, extra weight is added to the track with the use of classical sounds, including the violin.
It is apparent throughout Popular Problems that Leonard Cohen is just as intelligent and witty as he has always been. He provides an entertaining album with a host of characters and their stories explored in each song.
Cohen’s voice has got harsher of late but rather than clinging to his youth and pretending the years have left him unchanged (as many artists are prone to do), he embraces the rough edges to bring a richness to each track. The clarity of tone present in hits like “Suzanne” may be lost but Cohen’s talent certainly is not. This added croakiness allows for Cohen to venture further into the genres of Blues and Jazz, which he acknowledges with the title of “Almost Like The Blues”.
Many of the songs featured on the album explore dark themes. “Almost Like The Blues” is a haunting track with lyrics of rape and death, “I saw some people starving/There was murder, there was rape”. It possesses a fable-esque quality and is even reminiscent of “Hallelujah” in places.
The album was released two days after Cohen’s 80th birthday. Many artists could be seen as becoming stale after so many years on the music scene. However, it is impossible to accuse Cohen of this and, from the opening note, it soon becomes obvious that Cohen knows exactly what he’s doing and he’s doing as well as he ever did.