Release Date: Nov 22, 2019
Record label: Columbia
Thanks for the Dance, at just under half an hour, is also Cohen's shortest album. At three years after his death, it's his first - and last - posthumous album. It's an album of tying up loose ends, "settling accounts of the soul", finishing his project. Unlike, say, David Bowie's Blackstar, this isn't vicious, forward-facing music that stares death directly in the face, but an album of acceptance, calmness and peace.
"I was always working steady / But I never called it art / I got my shit together / Meeting Christ and reading Marx It failed my little fire / But it's bright the dying spark / Go tell the young messiah / What happens to the heart..." These are the opening lines on the posthumous Leonard Cohen album 'Thanks For The Dance'. Now I know what you're thinking posthumous albums are usually corporate releases to milk more money out of the fans of deceased artists. Biggie, 2Pac and Jimi Hendrix fans have been fleeced for years, but this time it feels different.
When Leonard Cohen sang "I was born like this, I had no choice/I was born with the gift of a golden voice" in his song "Tower of Song" in 1988, most people took it as a self-deprecating joke. No one regarded him as one of the great vocalists of his generation when he released his first albums in the late '60s, given the dour, sometimes flat tone of his delivery. Conventional wisdom has it that his albums succeeded not because of his singing but despite it.
In October 2016 Leonard Cohen released what would be his last studio album released during his lifetime. Anyone who has heard You Want It Darker will be well aware of how in touch with his own mortality Cohen was. Lyrically there was a sense, much like with David Bowie‘s Blackstar, that this was a piece of work by a man facing the inevitable. Musically it featured a style in line with that of the few albums that proceeded it.
It's always unnerving when a posthumous album is announced from an artist you love. There's something disrespectful about tearing through an artist's unpublished works to produce a slick product, a facsimile of their style based upon their previous work. These albums are usually pulled together by a gang of producers with monetary intent, but Leonard Cohen's Thanks for the Dance was a project made more by love than money.
Leonard Cohen could always wrangle a good song from a grim situation. Just one example: In 1966, he and a lover stayed in a squalid room at New York's Penn Terminal Hotel. Everything was broken--the windows, the radiators, the taps, their relationship--but the miserable experience at least yielded "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye." Yet not even someone with Cohen's wry humor would have guessed that, 50 years later, far bleaker circumstances would spur him into saying the most perfect goodbye imaginable.
A fter finishing You Want It Darker, which was released just 19 days before his death in 2016, aged 82, Leonard Cohen still wanted to add to his tower of song. Thus, he kept on writing and recording as life ebbed away, and the result is this beautiful posthumous collection. His songwriter son Adam has assembled a stellar cast of musicians, such as Daniel Lanois, Jennifer Warnes and Spanish guitarist Javier Mas, to do justice to the unfinished home recordings.
In a 1992 interview with Paul Zollo, Leonard Cohen said: "Freedom and restriction are just luxurious terms to one who is locked in a dungeon in the tower of song". This statement encapsulates what Cohen knew to be true in all aspects of his work and life. A cult icon in songwriting, that anxious, nagging desire to write is something Cohen spoke of as both a struggle and a blessing - and one which is beautifully poignant in this compilation of songs.
The Lowdown: As a poet, lyricist, and all-around inquisitive human being, Leonard Cohen spent a lifetime exploring the sacred and the profane, the meaning of life and death, and pleasures both physical and divine. From Old Ideas in 2012 through the 2016 LP You Want It Darker, the specter of his own mortality became a dominant theme in his work. On the chorus to the title track on the latter album, Cohen rasped, "I'm ready, my Lord." Considering he passed away within a few weeks of its release, it appeared that Cohen was quite serious about being ready.
Rating: NNNN Leonard Cohen wrote himself the perfect final statement, even if we didn't know it until 19 days after it was released. "Hineni hineni," he cried on 2016's You Want It Darker, echoing Abraham's Biblical call to the heavens. "I'm ready, my lord." He died shortly after, placing the Montreal poet and singer's 15th album in the pantheon of great end-of-life works by artists like Johnny Cash and David Bowie.