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Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

Nobody at the age of 82 should be making records this good. In fact, nobody expects musicians at the age of 82 to even be making records. Leonard Cohen, however, appears to be bucking this expectation. Forthcoming critical acclamations aside, the sheer fact that Cohen is able to produce music and lyrics with this quality at the age of 82 is, in short, remarkable. Most of his contemporaries have either prematurely shuffled off their mortal coil or taken up bee-keeping, and those who continue to write and release often earn praise simply for the feat of being alive, as opposed to writing quality songs. We ignore the creative lull in order to appreciate their functionality.

In many of these cases, we are inclined to proclaim these albums to be ‘the best since when’. Cohen is, once again, not one of these people, he’s been on a roll since 2001’s Ten New Songs brought him out of a decade-long absence, and every subsequent release has been an improvement on the last. Fifteen years later, we are once again standing at the peak of a creative mountain, but the landscape looks very different to what it once was.

Leonard Cohen - press image: Chuff Media
Leonard Cohen looking might fly for an eighty-something-year-old guy – press image: Chuff Media

Throughout the album, Cohen embraces spirituality, and couples with  it an acute awareness of his own mortality. Whether it is an acceptance or not, however, remains to be seen. Whilst he told The New Yorker earlier this year that he was ready to die, he almost immediately retracted this statement, and whilst death’s fingerprints are all over the LP, there is no sign of it being a resignation. The title track flits between aggression and acceptance, but never lets you know where he truly stands.

At the end of the day, lyrically, this is an album of juxtapositions. He has scores to settle with God, lovers, and himself, old wounds to heal, and new ones to open. And yet, despite the seemingly hopeless themes and the war against the omnipotent unknown, there is a sense of persistence, an immortal side to a very mortal record. Cohen can’t quite give up yet – ‘Treaty’ closes off the events with a list of misfortunes, sins and feuds, a feature which helps to make whatever examples of light there are within the album all the more valuable. The tracks are filled with contradictions and anomalies, but that in itself exposes the fleeting examples of hope which run through the album.

there is a sense of persistence, an immortal side to a very mortal record

As for the music, it’s safe to say that this is by no means more of the same. In spite of his age and history, Cohen is nonetheless moving forward, embracing dance remixes and replacing the synths and drum machines of old with waves of strings within a sea of organ. Tremolo guitars and pedal steels emerge from the void to tug at the heartstrings, whilst the contrast of orchestral majesty and scorched singing makes for a fascinating comparison.

And what a voice. The trademark growl, a poetic snarl, has only become more cultivated as the years have built on it. The wine has become richer, the vintage more refined, to the point where the overall effect feels as if Cohen is singing inside your very mind, a feat only enhancing the album’s spiritualist tendencies. His defiant rasp speaks volumes, and paired with the simplistic instrumentation and church-feverish choirs, it forces you to develop an almost hypnotic fixation with it. It’s a scintillating weapon.

Leonard Cohen might be singing about his physical mortality, but he has long been confirmed as one of music’s immortals. You Want it Darker simply adds more evidence to this case. Cohen longs for wishes, and yet he already has all he needs, for he already carries a legacy built to last millennia. To put it simply, it’s brilliant.

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