On Leonard Cohen’s 14th album at 82 years old, some may hear You Want It Darker as a self-requiem or Bowie-esque leave taking.
But there are more wry musings than rueful resignation here and Cohen gives a wink and a nod to his fans as the title suggests.
It is easy to hear the music as a farewell. On the opening title track he says “Hineni – I’m ready my Lord.” The recording has some Hebrew imagery but Cohen’s work has always been confessional with some biblical allusions. He seems like a man who works from fundamental levels.
Recently the death of long-past muse Marianne Ihlen prompted a moving note from Cohen which was made public. Ihlen, celebrated in song and on album cover, and Cohen, presented a bohemian ideal that anyone could aspire to or attain. The long ago sparse images from their Greek sojourn helped the image linger.
That’s the backstory for You Want It Darker. It sets up a deep mood but that’s often the case with Cohen who could follow a bleak war story like The Partisan with a bittersweet version of Famous Blue Raincoat and make it play like a campfire story – an epic one, though.
You Want It Darker plays in the stripped-down style of Popular Problems, a minimalist sound that suits his bass voice. As he’s never sounded young, he doesn’t sound like an old man either; there’s no past ideal to live up to. He’s always Leonard Cohen, free to surrender to his musings, and these may be dark but they’re not grim.
Wasn’t Kurt Cobain reflecting on “a Leonard Cohen afterworld” on In Utero?
Cohen’s been blessed to be a poet who can sing his verse with a gut string guitar without sounding like a pretentious ass. His Montreal–bred pastiche of pre-war Europe and Old Testament imagery is no rakish pose. He’s been the man all his life.
Cohen’s records can yield some poetic anthems (Suzanne, Hallelujah, First We Take Manhattan, Bird On a Wire) that endure for generations. On a fundamental level he’s a commentator who has an insight into basic human nature. As an artist he gets how to link images with atmosphere and it’s somewhere in between those that he works from.
You Want it Darker is an undiminished Cohen delivery coming down from the passage of time and taking some solace from it.
– Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews the latest releases in Street Sounds every Friday in The Morning Star.