Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker Review

Impossible it is to forget the monumental final effort David Bowie created with Blackstar, it is the frankness and tragedy of dying first that cements him at a pillar higher than Cohen when comparing their final works. They passed in the same year. They both offered greatly differing, vibrant bodies of work that will hold their own in the years to come. But You Want It Darker is better. It is an album defined by its title track, remembered for those ghostly, tender and operatic voices that open Cohen’s swansong, and rightly so. Move beyond You Want it Darker though. Cohen does offer a welcome reflection on his career and life, as did Bowie with Blackstar, but the former offers much more than that with the tracks that followed.

He offers not just reflection, but an ironic look into the future. He cancels his plans, he deals himself out of the game, as he mourns on the perfect Leaving the Table. If there were a track on You Want it Darker to rival the power of the opening, it would be Leaving the Table. Audiences did want it darker. Cohen obliged and could easily have headed off the deep end with tracks like It Seemed the Better Way or Steer Your Way. They are temporary lulls from the perfection found on the A-Side. A spotty second half is acceptable because the blow is cushioned by Traveling Light and String Reprise / Treaty.

Blues takes control of You Want it Darker, but there are still some of the usual suspects among his musical catalogue present here. Orchestral pieces, a voice deeper and far more in touch with his misgivings than ever before. Should Cohen have continued after You Want it Darker, it would be harder to figure out where else he could go. This deeply personal piece holds no punches and tells no lies. It gives Cohen a chance to work with his son, Adam Cohen, and offers Athena Andreadis some beautiful backing vocals on Traveling Light. Cohen has always been a surprisingly collaborative musician. His reliance on studio musicians, backing vocals and big band blues is just as truthful and pure here as it was in his earliest works. It doesn’t feel like a cycle of the circle, but an acknowledgement of where Cohen was with You Want it Darker, and how it ended.

Dark, ethereal and cold yet also a personification of those loving qualities Cohen transcribed on comeback album I’m Your Man. At a press junket for the album, Cohen apologised to fans and told them he would live forever. Three weeks later, the proclaimed “Ladies Man” was dead. He leaves behind a strong body of work and the most intimate closing album fans could have hoped for. It works as an entry point and final note for the man’s work. That is no small feat. Blackstar is not that. Both are beautiful and personal pieces. Both faced death with courage and lyrical fights that seem to tell an audience that there is a chance they could come through this successfully. But it is Cohen who deals himself out. He acknowledges that the people and audience he played for have aged and died around him, and reflects on that horrible fear with a beauty like no other.

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