Leonard Cohen - 1934 to 2016, may he rest in the hall of his fathers. This was on my list to review before the 2nd of December when all submissions for the blog must be in for consideration in our album of the year list, sadly the news of his passing has made this a memorial review. I am not the best for this, as I do not want to seem like I am jumping on the artist passing for glory. So, I started this review the day after he past, but I will not be posting till later; I have seen other blogs do that and it has never been something I understood. Anyway, back to the album; 'You Want It Darker' is the fourteenth studio album from Canadian Singer/Songwriter Leonard Cohen, it was released 21st October 2016 and was released to great acclaim. Leonard Cohen is a songwriter’s muse, he has inspired artists such as Nick Cave, been mentioned in songs by Nirvana, Marillion and Mercury Rev; his poetry has been published and he was still touring until 2013 with his music. In the press before his passing, he was making comments that his time might be short and it was something that he knew was coming. But he was always a man for imagery (it is hard to talk about Leonard Cohen in the past tense, it does not make sense yet), he would make the mind come alive with such imagery that it would colour your dreams. My first introduction was via the film 'Natural Born Killers' when three songs 'Waiting for A Miracle', 'Anthem' and 'The Future' were used on the film; these were taken from the album 'The Future' which is a beautiful album. Another of my favourite works is 'New Skin for The Old Ceremony' which contains the song 'Chelsea Hotel', another beautiful song which has helped in dark time. This album was produced by Leonard Cohen's son, Adam Cohen and the thank you section of the album goes into detail about how Adam helped his dad finishes these songs, when he was not sure that he would be able to complete his work. It sounds like he was fulfilling his father's final wishes, making it possible for these songs to be finished and unveiled to the world. Now, it is time for me to put down my rose-tinted glasses and look at the songs in detail.
01 - You Want It Darker
This song sounds a lot like 'Waiting for The Miracle', it is a steady pace and the sound is given this gentle drone and beautiful backing vocals. Mr Cohen voice is fragile on this recording, akin to the final Johnny Cash recordings; there is spirit on display and there is also age to the vocals, mixed with the words. Now, the words, oh my deity those words are beautiful. Telling his God that he is ready to move on, he is wanting to end this pain in his bones in one breath. But he is also taking God to task on here, questioning his absence at times of great struggle (the holocaust is brought up). He sings Hineni, Hineni, Hebrew for I am Here, I am Here. Even in the last days of his life, he was still able to give a such power in a very minimalist way to these words, it is a power which I will miss and this album starts on a powerful note.
02 - Treaty
This song is about two loves which cannot find a common ground, the people (or maybe a relationship between a person & God) are in love with each other and it builds to the frustration behind the words. It is a beautiful and gentle number, with Mr Cohen claiming he was real and the other person was turned into a ghost. You can hear the desire to reach out for forgiveness and a reunion of sorts, lamenting the fact that forgiveness and reconciliation might never be achieved. The religious imagery on this song is as strong as ever, the vocals are low and still full of passion, but with frailty; it is another beautiful number that will help people through those long nights.
03 - On the Level
Co-Wrote with long-time collaborator Sharon Robinson, this song is about how things can be both positive and negative; the angel & the devil can be the same person and you are wanting to change and the only way is out of the door. It is mid-paced number, once again it has a lot of reflection on the past and it is a good song. But it is surrounded by some top-quality gems on this album, so it one that I appreciate more than love.
04 - Leaving the Table
This song is a beautiful resignation speech, the person is packing up shop and moving on as the spirit cannot fight anymore. The ending is in sight and the tables are being cleaned up, it will no doubt be more read into this after his passing (akin to how 'Blackstar' by David Bowie has been seen since his passing). Maybe death was on his mind, but I think that he was just saying that his anger to certain things was passed and it was time to put those feeling to rest. It is such a gentle song; a sadness hangs in the air and it sound fantastic.
05 - If I Don't Have Your Love
A slow country ballad about not have love and how the world would be over without that love in your life, it is a tried and tested number, one that has been done before and will be done again. Leonard Cohen's vocals are raspy on this song, the lower notes are breathy and it sounds so beautiful. It is a simple song, one which will have people holding each other closer, or being a companion on those long, dark nights of soul searching.
06 - Traveling Light
The theme of saying goodbye continues on 'Traveling Light' which has a Jewish feeling to the music as the classic guitar sounding haunting as the minimal backing music is once again a backdrop for that glorious voice and his captivating voice. Looking back at his past and almost reverting to those days by not having as much material possessions around, this is the song of a man who is yearning for the road once more and is ready for a journey.
Starting with the vocals of the Montreal’s Synagogue Choir, 'It Seemed the Better Way' is a song which seems to be dealing with the time that Leonard Cohen was a monk during the 1990's and his relationship with his Zen Master Kyozan Joshu Sasaki (aka Roshi) and how his time at the monastery was one that he looked back on with mixed feelings. There are allegations of sexual harassment against Kyozan Joshu Sasaki and it might have influenced the song. It is a song that is tainted with sadness and regret, hinting at something darker underneath the lyrics.
08 - Steer Your Way
First published as a poem in the New Yorker magazine in June 2016, 'Steer Your Way' is a song about giving up material possessions and moving towards a simpler, more rewarding life of self-fulfilment and enlightenment. This song is once again a simple affair, the focus is on the words and the vocals which sound strong and full of passion on this number. It is another beautiful song, one which will gain momentum faster now that Mr Cohen has passed on.
09 - Sting Reprise/Treaty
Ending the album is a reprise of 'Treaty' which starts with just strings and it sounds emotional, the raw passion that is on show here is hard to listen to, but the music is so good and the ending with a repeat of a verse from 'Treaty' is just a reminder of that song and the sentiment of wanting forgiveness and to re-establish a connection; a fitting ending to this record.
I do not think that this was an intentional goodbye, but it is an album by a man who knew that his time on this earth was running low. Much like 'American IV: The Man Comes Around' by Johnny Cash, you are hearing a man give a performance that is spellbinding, captivating and beautiful. The production by Adam Cohen is subtle and respectful, but without sounding safe or too respectful. The music is just a backdrop for that wonderful voice and those tales of love and loss. From all of us at ATTIWLTMOWOS - rest well Mr Cohen, the world is darker without you around.
8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my time, money and heart
Top track - You Want It Darker
You can purchase You Want It Darker on Amazon here.
You can visit the Leonard Cohen website here.
Here is a link to the Leonard Cohen Facebook page.
You can stream You Want It Darker on Deezer
You can stream You Want It Darker on Spotify here.
You can stream You Want It Darker on Tidal here.