It’s been a while since Leonard Cohen has been waiting to take leave from us — every other time more sharp and magnificent than before. But this time, the godfather of gloom wasn’t playing wolf. This time, post his fourteenth and final — You Want It Darker — Cohen is gone. Just like that, leaving the heart of us to fend for itself — without that poetry, without the exquisite melody, without that deep, haunting voice and its character. But just days before he left, apart from an oeuvre of some of the finest pieces of music and rich poetry, the man has also left behind one of his finest hours in the form of You Want It Darker — a contemplation on life so extraordinary that it will remain universal in times to come. These elegant odes to death chanted in his cracked, thick, gravelly voice, scalded by many a cigarette and heartache, will be remembered in times to come — the kind in which someone like Cohen is needed to be with us through the miseries we are about to go through. The ones we are going through.
Playing You Want it Darker, an hour after Cohen’s death, is like walking alongside the musician’s hearse. You immerse yourself into 50 years of music while he sings “If thine is the glory, then mine must be shame. You want it darker. We kill the flame” in the title song. Every word Cohen utters, lamenting and pining, theatrically, of course, you imagine him in his black hat and formal suit, sitting in a chair across from that Famous Blue Raincoat he bought in London and delivering one potent piece after another. This time, his son Adam, who also has the credit of producer on the album, has helped create much of this nine-track record.
Each song in the album has Cohen let go of life slowly. Some of them have him recall the past over sparse orchestration — which is where the simplicity and beauty of these pieces lie. The title song is sung over an organ, very light drumming and the occasional chorus. Its hymn-like structure is so overpowering and then he gives you — “Hineni, hineni, I’m ready, my lord.” We weren’t, you wondrous weirdo.
He follows this one with Treaty, a song about lovers wanting to settle for peace, over light synths. On the level has Cohen’s voice paired with the cascading piano, a female chorus and an arpeggiating guitar. Leaving the table is a wry, ingenuous ode to death while guitar riffs move along. “I don’t need a lover, so blow out the flame, Cohen growls. The interludes are slow, intelligent and never too bright.
Travelling light, opens with a gorgeous violin and Spanish guitar prelude and merges with female harmonies in one of the finest pieces Cohen gives us. He rasps, “It’s au revoir, My once so bright, my fallen star.” This one can be for a lover, for that guy sitting above us all. I want it to be for us. For our souls. “It seemed the better way” has a male choir singing in parts. It’s morbid, real and what we need today.
“Sound like the truth but it’s not the truth today. Oh I better hold my tongue, I better take my place, Lift this glass of blood, and try to say the grace”, rumbles Cohen. The violin accompanies him here, playing this requiem of a song. Steer your way, he sings along with a bluegrass fiddle, instructing us towards the end of the record. Treaty’s reprised version, wherein the song is played on strings, has Cohen call it a day with — “I wish there was a treaty between your love and mine.” This one overwhelms more than it did 20 days ago.
Cohen lives in the verse. He’ll always live in the verse. In You want it darker, Cohen sounds ready to cross the line and enter the other life. It’s au revoir/ My once so bright, my fallen star/ I’m running late, they’ll close the bar/ I used to play one mean guitar.
You did Mr Cohen. Yes you did. But you also wrote and sang. And gave us the soundtrack to our lives. We’ll remember you for that.