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You Want It Darker
Leonard Cohen You Want It Darker
Released 21 October 2016

Leonard Cohen, Adam Cohen, Patrick Leonard
Label Columbia
Length 36:09
Genre Folk, soft rock
Website leonardcohen.com

2016 has been a bit shit really, a year where major musical influences like Prince, Maurice White and Phife Dawg passed away unexpectedly; music has taken quite a battering. It started with the loss of Bowie back in January and will be bookended figuratively by the loss of Leonard Cohen in November. Like Bowie, Cohen knew his time was coming to a close and managed to channel his final thoughts into a compelling album that takes on an even deeper meaning with his passing.

Of the artists mentioned, 82-year-old Cohen’s passing is the least shocking; his letter to one-time muse Marianne Ihlen on her deathbed and his admittance that he was ready to die in an interview with The New Yorker gave sufficient warning that all was not well. You Want It Darker is an album crafted by a man very much aware of his own mortality, someone who is tired and ready to call it a day. His trademark warm baritone that has become almost atonal in his later years sets a solemn scene, accompanying music is sparse and the use of organ and the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir calls to mind a funeral service in the more reflective moments of the album.

Standard themes of love and religion are as prominent as always; Cohen, sometimes reluctantly, is surrendering himself to both. Title track 'You Want It Darker' is interspersed with Jewish prayer including the repeated declaration "Hineni, Hineni, / I’m ready, my Lord". 'Treaty' shows him wanting to end the bloody battle that is love, no longer willing to fight his corner. The theme of surrender to love and religion also takes the form of the card player leaving the table, referenced as the opening line to 'You Want It Darker' and more fully realised in 'Leaving the Table' which starts and finishes with the line "I’m leaving the table / I’m out of the game".

It’s not all doom and gloom though, 'If I Didn’t Have Your Love' provides a surprisingly upbeat moment at the mid-point of the album with Cohen recounting how empty and sad life would be without the love of the person addressed. In a sea of Old Testament imagery and despair it’s comforting to know that the good times can still be cherished.

It must be one of the most soul clarifying moments to record music knowing that you’re close to death; Freddie Mercury somehow noticing the beauty in the Montreaux landscape weeks before he died in 'A Winter’s Tale', Johnny Cash’s heart wrenching cover of 'Hurt' with its accompanying music video showing the aged country singer and his wife not long before they both died, Bowie’s mask temporarily slipping for 'I Can’t Give Everything Away'. These are moments that transcend critique and so too does You Want It Darker. Even if the music was not to your liking there are powerful, universal messages of life and death from an enlightened soul to marvel at. It is introspective, cathartic and a fitting swan song to a much loved musician.

- Brian Kinsella