“You Want It Darker” – Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen      

“You Want It Darker”

Columbia / Sony

Leonard Cohen always blurred the lines between life and death. His deep voice was sorrowful, powerful and humble. He almost defies categorization, as he mixes dark brooding archetypes with religious imagery and a feeling that he’s just not telling you everything. He has made a huge impact on the world of music with his originality and his powerful sense of drama.

Cohen passed away this past November just weeks after the release of his final album, “You Want It Darker”. The critics had already been writing that with this release he seemed to be preparing for his passing on to the next world.

“You Want It Darker” delivers on its promise. Like much Cohen material, it is deep, slow and peppered with choirs and conversations with higher powers. Ever philosophical, he delves into his familiar metaphors of light and darkness, life and death, pleasure and pain.

The album kicks off with the title track. It’s a sparse arrangement where Cohen is almost speaking to you in his quiet, deep voice. So much of this album showcases his restrained power. He has such a powerful voice, but only brings it out for moments of great contrast when he’s already got your feelings in his grasp. He is almost a master of persuasion with his subtlety, mystery, and sense of grand wisdom.

I love the second track, “Treaty”. Cohen lays down some nice metaphoric imagery. The song has a thematic throwback to his hit “Anthem” from his 1992 masterpiece “The Future”. He speaks of struggling to come to terms with the battles of life, and wants to lay down his arms.

“On the Level” has a little bit of a gospel feel to it, with a shuffling beat and full line up of backup singers. He always straddles the line between dark and light – sitting on the fence with a leg dangling on each side. The chorus intones “They ought to give my heart a medal/ For letting go of you/ When I turned my back on the devil/ Turned my back on the angel too”.

Cohen telegraphs his own passing with “Leaving the Table”. The theme is pretty clear in the slow, melodic lullaby: “You don’t need a lawyer/ I’m not making a claim/ You don’t need to surrender/ I’m not taking aim/ I don’t need a lover, no, no, no/ The wretched beast is tame/ I don’t need a lover/ So blow out the flame”.

It’s always sad to see legendary artists give up the ghost and leave us behind. Leonard Cohen takes us to church with him one last time with “You Want It Darker”. It’s a fitting tribute to his own life which was so full of dramatic contrasts. He always seemed to be wrestling with the gods. I’m grateful to have been touched by his works. Rest in peace, poet of the deep.

Tom Matthew

Two Ton Music