Release Date: Oct 21, 2016
Record label: Columbia
Writing this review, after Leonard Cohenâ€™s death, makes it that much harder not to attach some of the lyrics to the fact he saw what was coming. Granted, for an eighty-two year old man to write about his impending death, shouldnâ€™t be seen as unusual. But, with the first full week of November behind us the title You Want It Darker comes off less like a joke about the albumâ€™s content and more of a summation of 2016 as a whole.This album, musically, feels like a return to Cohenâ€™s work in the 1960â€™s and 1970â€™s.
The story goes that it was Leonard Cohen’s son Adam who pressed his father for a back-to-basics album, one where the most magnificent mutter in rock could operate unhindered by Cohen Sr’s taste for flamenco guitar and synths. We may have something as banal as pester power to thank, then, for this exquisite 14th album from the Montreal poet, held by recent Nobel laureate Bob Dylan – gnomic as ever – to be “No 1” to his “zero”. The facts are these: Cohen is 82 and – after having toured solidly for five-odd years, remaking the fortune he lost to a thieving former business manager – is winding down.
Last week, Leonard Cohen felt obliged to announce that reports of his death – or at least his imminent death – had been exaggerated. “I said was ready to die recently,” he told the audience at a listening party in Los Angeles for his 14th studio album. “And I think I was exaggerating. I’ve always been into self-dramatisation.
You want it darker? Is that a question or a dare? Perhaps it’s both. The titles of Leonard Cohen’s albums have always offered a pared-down glimpse into the essential nature of his work. Shaved and stripped of any unnecessary adornment, they have a tendency to be bleak, cold and often more than a little funny. Who but Cohen would have called the flawed portrait of an artist grappling with the failure of idealism and the disappointments of middle age I’m Your Man? Maybe the only thing that has saved Leonard Cohen from skating any nearer to the abyss has been his deadpan sense of humor.
There is no question mark at the end of the title of Leonard Cohen’s 14th studio album. Whilst other recent album titles have shared a certain wry detachment (Old Ideas and Popular Problems), You Want It Darker seems to engage directly in a dialogue with the audience. Rather than questioning listeners’ supposed bloodlust, it boldly asserts it as a statement of fact.
You Want It Darker is the 14th studio record from Leonard Cohen. At once musician, poet, storyteller, and all around Renaissance man, the singer-songwriter has experimented with a variety of instrumentation throughout his 60-year career. These sounds have captured the minimal essence of gentle acoustics from previous works such as his ever popular record Songs from a Room (1969), to the more recent blues heavy Popular Problems (2014).
The title of Leonard Cohen’s new album serves as a taunt. It’s a jab at those who expect the 82-year-old poet and singer to just retire, going gently into the good night without a fight. It’s also a treatise on modern culture, particularly fitting for the current presidential election cycle. John Oliver describes us as being “buried alive in the horror that is this election.” Cohen, ever the tidy wordsmith, doesn’t engage in such histrionics.
Leonard Cohen has been bidding his farewell for decades, since before we ever met him. In 1966, he opened Beautiful Losers—his mystical, lysergic, gleefully obscene second novel—with the sunset plea, “Can I love you in my own way? I am an old scholar, better-looking now than when I was young. That’s what sitting on your ass does to your face.” He was just 32 then, rakish without ravaging, not yet celebrated for pairing wry, elegant sacrilege to folk melodies—a year before courting “Suzanne,” 18 from raising his “Hallelujah.” But even then, he was conscious and deferential to the light waning around him.
You Want It Darker is a succinct journey into the psyche of a man who knows his career is at an end, but that isn’t going to stop him going out on a high. You Want It Darker is the fourteenth and final studio album by Leonard Cohen. As with all his best work, Songs of …, Songs From a Room, New Skin, etc, You Want It Darker skirts a fine line between euphoria and despair.
It won’t be a surprise to learn that Leonard Cohen’s 14th, and perhaps final, studio album is somewhat preoccupied with reflection, consolidation and, yes, mortality. It’s an unsentimental, often feisty collection that attempts to make sense of his time here, ruminates on his preparedness for departure and considers that we might well be going to hell in a handcart in the not-too-distant future. Best to get the popcorn in then.
On his signature classic, "Hallelujah," Leonard Cohen sang about meeting "the Lord of Song. " But on the title track of his new LP, the third in a late-game rally that's been as startlingly brilliant as Bob Dylan's, Cohen takes that imagined reckoning with the Almighty deeper, intoning "Hineni," a Hebrew term for addressing God that translates as "Here I am. " The punchline, aside from the title's cheeky challenge – true Cohen fans always want it darker – is that with his cantorial delivery, the famous lady's man makes the phrase sound kinda like "hey, baby.
In song after song, Cohen delivers lyric juxtapositions that settle scores with God, past lovers, and himself, but almost always arrives at equanimity. He sounds like a spent Jeremiah alone in a cave conversing with God rather than the biblical figure transported to heaven in a fiery chariot. After coming to terms with the ghosts in his past and his acceptance of mortality, Cohen emits a resilient flicker of hope for total reconciliation in the shadows.
On the cover of this, his 14th full-length, Leonard Cohen sits, humbly checking off everything that is stereotypically "cool": sunglasses, hat, cigarette in hand, eyes averted. It may be his most striking album art to date (if not second to the disarming image of him casually eating a banana on 1988's I'm Your Man). His arm rests on the edge of an off-white frame, and surrounding that frame is pitch black — how fitting, for an album titled You Want It Darker.
As 2016 draws close to its end, another musical magician offers a late-in-life contemplation of mortality, cloaked in a similar sense of finality and foreboding as David Bowie’s Blackstar. At 82, Leonard Cohen will hopefully be with us for many more years, but whatever his physical condition, his recent New Yorker profile confirms that he’s using his remaining time on Earth to focus on putting his worldly affairs in order as a means of spiritual housecleaning. The culmination of 50 years of moody, often melancholic music, You Want It Darker stands out as the musical equivalent thereof, a wry reckoning of a lifetime’s worth of damaged relationships, upheld vows, and broken promises from pop’s preeminent emotional accountant.
Kris Kristofferson once told Leonard Cohen that he wanted to steal the opening lines from ‘Bird On A Wire’ to be inscribed on his tombstone. The surprising thing is that he was actually able to choose at all: “Like a bird on a wire/ Like a drunk in a midnight choir/ I have tried, in my way, to be free” is perfect, but then, so is “There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in” from ‘Anthem’; so’s “Dance me to the end of love” or “Nevermind, we’re ugly but we have the music” or “And even though it all went wrong/ I’ll stand before the Lord of Song/ With nothing on my tongue/ But Hallelujah”. More than anyone else, Leonard Cohen seemed to write epitaphs rather than couplets, his words like pennies on your eyes to keep you rich and help you pay the tollman.
No matter how dire the headlines have gotten as of late, Leonard Cohen is here to remind us that things can all get worse. We could be living in a world without Leonard Cohen. On his 14th studio album, You Want It Darker, the 82-year-old Cohen frequently conjures haunting scenes where his singular presence is fading and his creative light is starting to dim.
In the wake of Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature last week, pop observers floated other names whose lyrical abilities were worthy of being awarded by the Scandinavian arbiters of cultural greatness. One name that came up persistently was that of Leonard Cohen, the 82-year-old Canadian bard whose 14th studio album, “You Want It Darker,” is a taut display of his dry wit and ability to wring beauty out of even the most harrowing human ideals. Cohen has been examining the duality between the sacred and the profane for decades.
Leonard Cohen's "You Want it Darker" (Columbia) gets right down to the business of living up to its rather foreboding title. The 82-year-old songwriter's 14th studio album opens with the sound of a distant choir that situates itself somewhere between a drone and a moan. Cohen's voice floats in like a gray fog over a funereal church organ. To say it's subterranean doesn't quite do his tone justice — the reaper is indeed in a grim mood, and there's nowhere to hide.
Leonard Cohen would be forgiven if he were in a more morose place than usual. A recent New Yorker profile revealed the 82-year-old isn’t in great health, and he’s aware that his time on Earth is growing ever finite. “I’ve got some work to do,” he told David Remnick. “Take care of business.
At the time of his passing, Leonard Cohen was rivaled only by Willie Nelson as far as his artistic longevity and sheer profundity in his expression. Where most performers would have long since retired and confined their activities to wandering about the golf course and taking weekly lunches with old pals, Cohen continued to tour, playing live before appreciative audiences and sharing the full breadth of his remarkable repertoire. Live recordings culled from those tours dominated his later output, but You Want It Darker serves as his most apt requiem of all, a sad but ironic farewell from a man fully prepared to meet his maker.
Now into his ninth decade, and just about 50 years after his debut record, Leonard Cohen has released a late-career masterpiece. A collection of spectral, hushed compositions (intimately arranged by his son and fellow singer/songwriter, Adam Cohen), You Want It Darker feels like a culmination; a reckoning with experience, with faith and with the dimming of the day. In its twilit hues, Cohen’s 14th album seems to treat its title like a dare; every song is a further excursion into the shadowy mysteries that surround us.