Leonard Cohen’s last album is Leonard Cohen’s last album. Though uneven, it contains some portions to remind us why he is the best songwriter alive.
Although he has declared that he has at least two more records in mind, at 82 years and seemingly closer to death than ever before, You Want It Darker sounds like Leonard Cohen’s final masterpiece. The Edge has already spoken about ‘You Want It Darker,’ which works not only as a perfect opening, but also as one of the best and most iconic songs of his since The Future, released back in 1992. The whole album seems to follow its atmosphere, with dark and minimal melodies accompanied by some occasional choruses and string arrangements.
It would be unfair to say that we should only focus on Cohen’s lyrics, as the music for them has been composed partly by him and partly by his son, but the truth is that his whole career has been founded on them, and it is no coincidence that the You Want It Darker‘s best songs are, at the same time, the ones with the best lyrics. ‘Treaty,’ a song that took him twenty years to write, is a good example of this: bitter, disenchanted, and mature, it sounds like a beautiful goodbye. In fact, at the close of the album (which, for the most part, is played only a string quartet) Cohen re-sings the ending of ‘Treaty’ with different words as if it were his epitaph.
Cohen’s work has always been very influenced by religion and spirituality, but in You Want It Darker this characteristic becomes, if possible, more evident. Songs like ‘Traveling Light,’ ‘Steer Your Way,’ or, again, ‘Treaty’ can be understood both as a reproach to a love of the past that never left or as a rendition to some kind of divinity. Maybe both views are accurate. Only songs like ‘On The Level’ or ‘If I Didn’t Have Your Love’ destabilise the record with a more classical sound, being by far its poorest tracks. Sonically, however, the evolution since his beginnings is remarkable. Instead of remaining a folk songwriter, Cohen has evolved with his music not as much as (but better than) Bob Dylan, arriving at some kind of style that, though modern, is still strictly recognisable as his. (And, on the topic of Dylan, if any songwriter deserved the Nobel Prize in Literature, Cohen is the one, but that’s another issue.)
You Want It Darker is not Cohen’s best album, but it is the best that we could realistically expect from him, and that says a lot. Far from the perfect likes of New Skin For The Old Ceremony or his debut Songs Of Leonard Cohen, it is a perfect farewell for his career and his life. It may seem terrible to say this, but I honestly don’t want him to record more albums. Whatever happens, You Want It Darker will always be Leonard Cohen’s farewell, and there is nothing else we could possibly want from him.
You Want It Darker is out now via Columbia Records