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Leonard Cohen 

Ten New Songs (Columbia)

On his first studio album in nearly a decade, Leonard Cohen sounds as if the downtime spent since his last effort was precisely that. Granted, Cohen's never been a ray of vocal sunshine, but his dark, whisper-sung growl is more somber and turgid than ever on Ten New Songs. In the past, Cohen's sandpaper vocal cords have served him well in his more customary, low-tech, folkish approach. But on Ten New Songs, Cohen's craggy delivery struggles with modernity. This is especially true when he finds himself coupled with an upbeat, pseudo-soft soul-rock groove on the opening cut, "My Secret Life" -- a pairing that initially leaves Cohen, whose scotch and cigarettes vocals still resonate, coming off as a middling lounge-act imitation of Barry White.

But first impressions have never been Cohen's forte either; his voice has to be savored. It becomes a fan's hard-earned reward. Moreover, his songwriting -- more poetic than lyrical -- is often erudite and challenging, and his musical approach, despite being tripped by his adventurous muse on occasion, has never been singular. Ten New Songs contains most of these classic Cohen elements. "That Don't Make It Junk" is stark Tom Waitsish loser melodrama; "By the Rivers Dark," a slow, sorrowful reflection; and "You Have Loved Enough," Faulknerian gospel. They're all captivating, pure-Cohen story-songs sung well. Problem is, none of it amounts to a sack of popular music potatoes when Cohen's savvy pop classicism gets mistakenly married with the supposedly hip yet drearily slow, trip-hopping beats that saturate Ten New Songs.

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