Essential New Music: Leonard Cohen’s “You Want It Darker”

There could’ve been no greater, sadder or blunter advertisement for Leonard Cohen’s final album than what he told The New Yorker back in October: “I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.” Louder than say, David Bowie, who kept his end quiet save for the lyrical contents of his last record, Cohen here talks the talk of being at death’s door from the outset. “I’m ready my Lord,” he fireside chats through the hum of a church organ on the album’s titular opener, a song whose pace is reminiscent of his classic “First, We Take Manhattan.” During the country lilt of “Leaving The Table,” with its f-hole guitar twang worthy of Gene Pitney, Cohen sing-stings about a life where he’s out of the game: “I don’t even know the people in your picture frame.”

Yet, the poet (pop’s best, apologies to the recent Nobel Prize winner for literature) most possessed of gravel and silt for a voice, and a gypsy in his heart, wasn’t quite so ready—in song, at least—to throw in all his towels. Through the dark, Cohen smartly questions everything from the prickly possibilities of future romance (a nearly pastoral “Treaty” and its secular screed “between your love and mine”) to, quite possibly, the sacred Zen Buddhist religion where he once solidly and stoically placed his faith. From the violin-and-Gyuto monk intro of “It Seemed A Better Way” to Cohen’s whispered searing line, “It sounded like the truth, but it’s not the truth today,” this tower of song seems ready for Biblical justice. With that, Cohen’s au revoir kiss off through the blue bouncing electric piano of “Traveling Light” (the song with its singer crooning at his heartiest) could be to a woman, a god or life itself. The same is true of the chamber-stringed hootenanny of “Steer Your Way” where Cohen drives past the “fables of creation and the fall” to what becomes his final mea culpa. To paraphrase one of Cohen’s best, that’s no way to say goodbye. But, then, well, safe travels, Mr. Cohen.

—A.D. Amorosi

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