Design By Humans
Published On: Wed, Nov 30th, 2016

Leonard Cohen: You Want It Darker

leonardLeonard Cohen
You Want It Darker
(Sony Music Entertainment)

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A few weeks before his passing, Leonard Cohen offered us one final peek into his lyrical brilliance, a nine-track record inspired by his arrival at a point in life where he found himself ready to let go, albeit with questions that he might have explored further if given a bit more time. You Want It Darker features a voice of Cohen’s that is tired yet peaceful, exhausted by a hard life of touring, yet satisfied in what he was able to accomplish in his work: a fearless search through the existential realm and the discovery of answers that might scare us in places deeper than our bones. His perspective is both omniscient and deeply personal; as he reminds us to travel through our days one thought at a time, he is offering us his love one last time in exchange for our own. The poetic dimension of Cohen’s work has always been impressive in its own right, a trait to be anticipated considering his background in poetry and fiction, which earned him a Prince of Asturias Award for literature in 2011. In collaboration with Patrick Leonard, who worked with Cohen on his previous two albums and has produced albums for Carly Simon, Roger Waters, and Elton John, he delivers a final record that sacrifices little if any of its literary value in exchange for further developed musicality. Before including a musical adaptation of a poem he published in The New Yorker earlier this year, as well as an arrangement of strings that brings full-circle the theme of the album as an offering of peace, he dips into realms of music that range from the spiritual to the Western swing. The title track features chants of “hineni” (translated from Hebrew as “here I am”) that were sung by the cantor at Cohen’s synagogue, the one he attended as a child in Montreal. “Leaving the Table” is driven by the pedal steel that gives it a countrified flare. Buoyed by mandolin strumming and la-la-las, “Traveling Light” is the musical and lyrical equivalent of a ride off into the sunset, though it comes with a final question: “If the road leads back to you/Must I forget the things I knew?” Cohen’s departure is defined by his ability to give thanks for a life of fulfillment while accepting that, in dedicating one’s self to an exploration of matters of the heart, there must be a few loose ends left behind. “Anthem,” a six-minute masterpiece on his 1992 album The Future and a song that many view as his magnum opus (despite the immense popularity of “Hallelujah”), includes a refrain that might offer the most concise framing of the legacy of the man: “There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”

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Leonard Cohen: You Want It Darker