The title of Leonard Cohen’s new album serves as a subtle jab at those who expect the 82-year-old poet and singer to just retire, going gently into the good night without a fight. Having toured solidly for five-odd years, remaking the fortune he lost to a thieving former business manager – Cohen is finally winding down.
Produced by his son, Adam Cohen, his latest offering – You Want It Darker – arrives packed with songs you could interpret as reflective farewells. Having recently unleashing his 14th studio album, he whipped music fans into a frenzy by declaring he’s “ready to die” in a New Yorker feature article. Cohen later backtracked and clarified that he might have exaggerated a little. “I intend to live forever … I intend to stick around until 120,” he said.
However, the eight and a half tracks (the 1/2 being a reprise) in the album says otherwise. The songs in the album deal in harsh goodbyes, whether it be in a friendship, a relationship, or to a loved one.
“If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game, If you are the healer, I’m broken and lame,” begins the opening title track, setting the tone of fragile mortality. The chorus of the track fittingly concludes with, “I’m ready, my Lord.”
Cohen’s hoarse, time-ravaged voice intones intently over cold, metallic beats and a haunting choir of voices, the mood somewhere between invocation, and resignation ensuring that the hair on your arms stands up at the repeated mentions of taking his leave.
With a definite sense of melancholic and soulful comfort mixed with humanity, it especially rings true in the song ‘You Want It Darker’, but almost as powerfully in ‘It Seemed the Better Way’, with the quiet weeping sound of a violin that sweeps you into a morose mood. Whether it is in the almost stately elegance of the album-closing reprise of ‘Treaty’, or the way ‘If I Didn’t Have Your Love’ and ‘Steer Your Way’ create quiet waves of warmth around the voice, you are never left without comfort on this album.
Meanwhile, the lyrics are as fascinating, albeit conflicted as ever. The title track flips from anger to resigned acceptance and back again with it’s fluctuations decorated with beautiful lines: “I struggled with some demons, they were middle-class and tame.” Superbly crafted,
Superbly crafted, You Want It Darker is an album of killer couplets.
And yes Cohen, we do want it darker.