Leonard Cohen has always been bleak, this is known, but it is only in the latter part of his career that his voice truly became the vehicle to deliver his own peculiarly excellent brand of poignancy. On his final album, You Want It Darker, it is the rumble of a train as it approaches the end of the line, reverberating through the ground and creeping up your spine. It has a visceral effect on the body akin to looking into the eyes of a loved one for the first time, your insides melting in the fire of it’s certainty.
The title track is one final, bitter glance at humanity, both his and yours. Cohen seems at piece with mortality if not with himself or others. The song is ripe with religious language though it remains unclear whether he believes faith can rescue us:
If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame
Cohen started as a poet before turning to music as way of conveying his message and his words are, as always, beguiling. He understands the power of simplicity and never hides from himself. Leaving The Table is an ode to love lost, to his failure to maintain, yet it avoids laying the blame too firmly at anyone’s door:
Musically this an album seeped in gospel, country and blues, it’s arrangements simple and sparse leaving room for that gravelly, gargantuan voice. Travelling Light is a bleakly poetic call to fraternity, to all of those who can never stop moving, the ‘dreamers who forgot to dream’. It may be tinged with regret but it isn’t angry. There’s an acceptance that some people won’t change, that this is the only path for them:
I’ve fallen in love with a bunch of Cohen’s records at different points over the last 20 years but for me this is his most consistent and complete album. I can recall listening to it and being thankful that he was still exploring avenues that other artists had neither the guts or wit to walk down. I mourn his passing but I’m grateful for everything he gave me. You can buy You Want It Darker here.