Do you like listening to things that sound like Leonard Cohen? Or even Leonard Cohen himself? If the answer is "fuck yeah!" (it should be) then read this review and buy this tape.
Mid-period Leonard Cohen, when he transformed the sonically tawdry and tacky into transcendent, is the number one touchstone in play here, and I will be mentioning the Bard of the Boudoir quite often so buckle up. At its weakest, The New Age is a damn good impression of a Cohen album and at its best, it's an arresting re-contextualization of 80s Cohen hallmarks transmuting them into something of Stevens's own.
No effort is made to disguise the Cohen inspiration and, in fact, there may even be a wry attempt to draw attention to it. To my ear, the first few seconds of the opening track, "The Vow", mirror the first few seconds of "I Can't Forget". Considering that these are the first few seconds that someone will hear when they pop in this tape, I assume they were carefully selected. Or maybe this is just some musical Rorschach situation and as a person who used a line from "I Can't Forget" in his wedding vows, it's no surprise that I'm hearing its echoes here.
After "The Vow" closes, Stevens makes his first true gambit, smacking me in the face with the enjoyably kitsch, dare-I-say? Rick Astley-ish intro of "Inviting You (Into My Life)". Stevens stops at nothing, including dropping in a lengthy nylon string guitar solo, to perfect the groovy, easy listening experience.
Escorted by a vibrato-laden synth lead "Easy to Hold" is an early stand-out, and the first glimpse of the heights Stevens and producer and co-writer Adrian Knight are truly capable of. The track is the kind of thing Puff Daddy would have sampled into oblivion in the Biggie days had this cassette dropped in 1988 rather than 2018. A muted sex jam that concludes perfectly with a chanteuse repeating "I may be easy to hold". Prepare to put this one on repeat.
Some of these tracks just feel good to have on the stereo, infusing your environment, like "(Beyond) The Law" and its slinky, operatic groove augmented by wordless "hmmms" and exhalations. I've definitely found my pew in Stevens's therapeutic disco-church.
"Colors of the Sunset" might be a little too Leonard Cohen for its own good—in the sense that I don't recognize enough of Stevens in it. It's not a bad tune whatsoever but it simply hasn't stuck with me through several listens like the rest of the album.
Another one of my favorites "All Night Messiah", more obliquely takes on Death of a Ladies Man (think "True Love Leaves No Traces" but freshened up with Stevens's mellow disco vibe). I would be sorely remiss if I didn't point out the fantastically fluttering lilt of the guest sax and flute work by David Lackner. The classy synth-cheese on the outro courtesy of Adrian Knight is superb as well. Magnifico!
Stevens follows up "Messiah" with another big time banger, title track "The New Age", finding a remarkable sweet spot between Cohen worship, rock solid songwriting, and dark-edged Depeche Mode-style overtones and production before pivoting into finale "Motorcycle", a gently propulsive Smog-gone-synth pop situation with Stevens crooning in a higher register and gliding into the ether.
Even though his name isn't on the spine, producer Adrian Knight has to be commended for his massive contribution. Other than the occasional wind instrument, female backing vocals and Stevens's voice and rhythm guitar, Knight is the backing band. Stevens does his part for sure, but The New Age wouldn't be what it is without Knight; they make a great team with Knight even co-writing a couple tunes as well. I definitely hope this collaboration has a future.
Grab yr tape here before the normals catch on and this thing goes gold.