You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen is undoubtedly one of the greatest writers and musicians of all time, and his 14th studio album You Want it Darker, only further confirms that fact.  The title is almost a tease as the record encapsulates Cohen’s dark croons of beautifully haunting poetry, delicately moving between images of death and religion.

The opening title track starts the record with the ethereal sound of the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir who chime “Hineni, Hineni” throughout the song, Hebrew for “here I am”, before Cohen continues “I’m ready, my Lord”. At this point we are reminded of Cohen’s way with words, even in different languages, a gift which demonstrates itself throughout the entire album. It is a difficult task to choose only a few examples of this poetry, but phrases such as “the blundered mountains weep” in ‘Steer Your Way’, prove a blunt reminder.

The album also introduces us to what would seem an impossible new level of intensity to Cohen’s voice, amplified on such songs as ‘Treaty’ and ‘If I Didn’t Have Your Love’. Here, Cohen is almost muted, a mere background presence.  This is something comparatively different to previous albums. However, sixth track ‘Travelling Light’, can’t help but transport us back to a certain romance on a Greek island in the early 60s.
On the release of this album Cohen himself has stated, “I hope that the final effect is one of invigoration and not suffocation”, and after listening to this record it is hard to argue. Despite the purposeful darkness of the album, it would be unjust to call it suffocating, as each song contains all the ingredients that make Cohen the music icon he is today whilst being no less original. An example of this would be the ending track to the record ‘String Reprise/Treaty’, in which the beautiful orchestral composition and final words of “I wish there was a treaty between your love and mine”, let us depart from the album, if anything feeling slightly invigorated.

Phoebe Berman

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