Just when we thought 2016 couldn’t get any more disheartening, one of the world’s most admired writers and musicians has sadly passed away; the wonderful Leonard Cohen. Only a few weeks before his death, Cohen released his 14th studio album You Want it Darker. Like Bowie’s Blackstar, it is all too easy to conflate such albums into a farewell sentiment. Nonetheless, its subject matter certainly resonates far deeper, as Cohen croons his way through the delicate poetry of death and religion.
Opening with the ethereal sound of the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir chiming “Hineni, Hineni” (Hebrew for “here I am”) throughout the title track, Cohen declares “I’m ready, my Lord”. At this point, we are reminded of Cohen’s way with words, a gift demonstrating itself throughout the entire album. It is a difficult task to choose only a few examples of this poetry, but phrases like “the blundered mountains weep” prove a blunt reminder.
It’s plain to see the title is a tease, especially as the album introduces us to an impossible new level of intensity in Cohen’s voice, amplified on ‘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 You Want it Darker, Cohen himself stated “I hope the final effect is one of invigoration, not suffocation”. After listening, it’s hard to argue with that. Despite the purposeful darkness to the album, it would be unjust to call it suffocating. Each song contains the ingredients that confirm Cohen as the visionary he will indefinitely be considered, whilst being no less original.
Consider the beautiful orchestral backing to ‘String Reprise/Treaty’, 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.