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Cohen at top of his game

Gregory Katz Associated Press

There’s no reason, of course, why an artist should slow down at 80. Leonard Cohen’s new album, “Popular Problems,” brims with his trademark wit.

The arrangements are simple and sparse, with some slow rhythm and blues urgency, but it is Cohen’s voice that surprises. The words are more spoken than sung, the delivery is gruff, and he sounds more bluesy than ever: Not bitter, not angry, but deeply fatalistic, and at times, just raunchy.

The defiant tone is set in “Slow,” which opens his 13th studio album with a paean to lovemaking (and possibly music) conducted at a languid pace. “It’s not because I’m old, and it’s not what dying does, I always liked it slow, slow is in my blood,” he says, drawing out the last word.

Some of the themes are grim, dealing with dislocation and loss – including a mournful post-Katrina elegy for New Orleans – but he never sounds defeated.

There is no sense that Cohen is running out of gas, or passion. If anything, he sounds more joyful than in earlier incarnations of his long . The nine-track “Popular Problems” closes with “You Got Me Singing,” a celebration of spirit that forecasts more work ahead: “You got me singing even though the world is gone, you got me thinking that I’d like to carry on,” he whispers. It sounds like a promise he intends to keep.

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