In the pantheon of modern songwriters only a few explore the dark corners of the heart and soul with such poetry, precision and weight as Leonard Cohen. He’s in that revered group alongside Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and increasingly, Nick Cave. Now 82, Cohen sees the end in sight, the curtains closing on a storied career, a life of adventures – physical, romantic and spiritual. He recently told The New Yorker that he’s “ready to die” and that’s the overwhelming mood on You Want It Darker.
“If you are the dealer, let me out of the game” sings Cohen on the title track and it’s just one of numerous allusions to mortality and the acceptance of fate. It feels like a final statement but certainly not a tragic one. In yesteryear he focused on on affairs of the heart, here he also takes stock of his life with both subtle and overt spiritual references. “Turned my back on the devil, turned my back on the angel too” he sings on the gospel-tinged ‘On The Level’. Tragic romance is still a flickering flame in Cohen’s poetry, most prominently on ‘Treaty’ where he he is in devastating form, singing “I wish there was a treaty between your love and mine.”
Front and centre is Cohen’s voice – deep, inimitable and half-sung. He’s one of the few who has always been able to find the fine balance between poetry and song, sliding effortlessly between the two mediums. Musically the production is graceful and sympathetic adding both a late-night swing and a contemporary rhythmic pulse. If this is to be his final artistic statement then it’s a gracious, eloquent and moving way to take a final bow.