Review: Leonard Cohen old and wise on ‘You Want It Darker’
Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker” (Columbia Records)
Leonard Cohen’s late, late career resurgence reaches new heights on “You Want It Darker,” an elegant treatise with deep felt layers of wisdom and a sense of finality.
Produced mostly by son Adam, Cohen’s third studio album in five years puts his most effective musical forms through a filter of restraint. Nothing distracts from the 82-year-old’s haunting lyrics, and his vocals remain both otherworldly and down-to-earth.
A physical, naked bass line drives the title song, as Cohen’s woofer-rattling vocals are underpinned by a cantor and the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir, connections to his Montreal youth. Full of recriminations and frustrations while also ready to accept fate, it may be God who wants it darker, but it’s us who “kill the flame.”
On “Treaty,” later reprised with a string quartet, Cohen may be putting to rest the relationship described on “Hallelujah,” with no room for illusions — “I’m so sorry for the ghost I made you be/ Only one of us was real, and that was me.”
The Mediterranean stylings of “Traveling Light” are like the soundtrack to Cohen’s courtship of the legendary (and recently deceased) Marianne Ihlen on a Greek island in the 1960s. “Leaving the Table” is a country song glowing from the jukebox and Johnny Cash could have recorded “If I Didn’t Have Your Love” with Rick Rubin.
If it’s too early to say goodbye, we can consider “You Want It Darker” as simply his new album, not the end of a trilogy.
No matter which station of life he’s at, Cohen shines on, darkly.