From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


I'm Melissa Block.

And lately, I've been under a hypnotic spell cast by this voice.


LEONARD COHEN: (Singing) Tell me again when I've been to the river and I've taken the edge off my thirst.

BLOCK: The unmistakable voice of Leonard Cohen. This is from his new album, "Old Ideas." And who'd have thought a 77-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter would be hovering near the top of the charts? Leonard Cohen was a poet and fiction writer first. In the '60s, he wrote signature songs including "Suzanne," "So Long, Marianne," "Bird on the Wire."

We asked two fellow singers and Leonard Cohen fans to talk about what they hear in the new album, starting with Conor Oberst, best known for his band Bright Eyes. He chose as his favorite a song with just Leonard Cohen's voice and his guitar.

CONOR OBERST: I picked "Crazy to Love You." To me, it was one of the more immediate songs that struck me on the album.


COHEN: (Singing) Had to go crazy to love you. Had to go down to the pits. Had to do time in the tower, begging like crazy to quit.

OBERST: The thing about it, well, this song and all his music is the way it expresses the human condition and the duality of our perversions and our flesh, and also our sort of higher self and the thing that's interested in reasoning and philosophy and language, and how those two things coexist inside of all of us. And that's a major theme through all his music.

BLOCK: And what about that voice? I mean, it feels like he's really inside your head. It's like he's so close to that microphone.

OBERST: Yeah, it's getting lower and lower over the years. It's strange. With his music, I don't necessarily listen to it from the standpoint of the production value or even the performance necessarily. It's his ideas that make him so amazing.


COHEN: (Singing) I'm tired of choosing desire. I've been saved by a blessed fatigue. The gates of commitment unwired. Nobody is trying to leave. Sometimes I'd head for the highway. I'm old and the mirrors don't lie. But crazy has places to hide in that are deeper than any goodbye.

BLOCK: Are there other songs on the CD that you've been paying attention to, Conor, listening to a lot?

OBERST: There's a lot of fantastic songs. I also like the last song a lot, "Different Sides."


COHEN: (Singing) We find ourselves on different sides of a line nobody drew.

OBERST: It's a very cool song, like his delivery is so, you know, kind of pitch-perfect. You just picture him in his, like, little fedora, in the smoky alley or whatever. And, obviously, the lyrics are phenomenal. But the chorus is also pretty fantastic. The chorus, it's: You want to change the way I make love. I want to leave it alone.


COHEN: (Singing) Both of us say there are laws to obey. Yeah, but frankly, I don't like your tone. You want to change the way I make love, but I want to leave it alone.


BLOCK: What do you think he's getting at there?

OBERST: I don't know. But it sounds nice.


OBERST: (Singing) The pull of the moon, the thrust of the sun. Thus, the ocean is crossed.

There's probably a few people that are as good as him, but there's nobody better, you know, for my sensibilities.

BLOCK: That's Conor Oberst. Now to singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith, like Leonard Cohen, a Canadian. He considers Cohen one of the biggest influences on his own songwriting.


COHEN: (Singing) Sleep, baby, sleep.

RON SEXSMITH: The first thing that comes to mind is just how amazing it is that it exists at all, you know? I mean, there was that period where he didn't make any records for a long time. And as a fan of Leonard Cohen, it's just you're always thinking every record could be his last or something these days. And so, just the fact that there's a new Leonard album out is just remarkable for me.

BLOCK: And that he's going back. It's so stripped down. I mean, there was a period where he was doing a lot of synthesizers and sort of walls of sound. And this one is so bare, naked.

SEXSMITH: Yeah, I've always been really good at sort of making a bee line, like, through the production straight to the songs. But, yeah, you know, this album is kind of a nice sort of marriage of, you know - 'cause he's playing guitar a bit more. I always feel that he sings better when he plays the guitar.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) If your heart is torn...

COHEN: (Singing) ...I don't wonder why (wonder why) if the night is gone (if the night is long). Is my lover there? (Lullaby) Is my lover there?

SEXSMITH: If you've been a fan as long as I have, you know, there's a trust that's been built up over time. And it becomes this thing where it's like you're getting a phone call from a friend you haven't heard of in a long time, you know? And you're getting his perspective and what he's been up to. Or, you know, it's just this sort of intimate thing that you can't get from anybody else.

BLOCK: Yeah, that's such a great metaphor to think of. I mean, that you're getting this phone call from an old friend. And I'm thinking about sort of the place he is at his life as reflected in these songs. I mean, you learn, I think, a lot about a man toward the end of his life - he's 77 - who's thinking a lot about mortality and at the same time thinking about romance and sex and all - it's all sort of wrapped into one.

SEXSMITH: The thing with Leonard, he doesn't - you know, obviously, he's not singing about frivolous things. He never has, you know? It's just great to have someone like him, you know, in this world that is very focused on the juvenile sort of things, to have someone that's writing from that place, you know, of - what's that line in "The Darkness," you know, I have no future, the present is not so pleasant and everything.


SEXSMITH: You're not going to get that from Justin Bieber, you know?


COHEN: (Singing) I've got no future. I know my days are few. My little present's not that pleasant. Just a lot of things to do. I thought the past would last me, but the darkness got there too.

SEXSMITH: He's always very conversational too. You know, obviously, he's a poet, but it's - you never get the sort of condescending thing or a high-brow feeling. It's very simple language. The words that he uses, they penetrate because they're very simple, and you never have to scratch your head and wonder what he's singing about.


COHEN: (Singing) I don't smoke no cigarette. I don't drink no alcohol. I ain't had much loving yet. But that's always been your call. Hey, I don't miss it, baby. I got no taste for anything at all.

BLOCK: Do you think, with Leonard Cohen, that people either sort of get him or they don't? There's really maybe no middle ground. People either love that voice or they just don't get it. They say this guy isn't even singing. He's just sort of chanting.

SEXSMITH: Yeah, I mean, I think 'cause some people can't get past the singing. I've always loved his voice. And some people will never comprehend it because it is such an intimate thing.


COHEN: (Singing) I love to speak with Leonard. He's a sportsman and a shepherd. He's a lazy bastard living in a suit.

BLOCK: That's Leonard Cohen from his new album "Old Ideas." We heard from singers Ron Sexsmith and, before him, Conor Oberst.


COHEN: (Singing) He just doesn't have the freedom to refuse.

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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