Leonard Cohen’s “You Want It Darker”: mortality, religion, love and war


Few artists have done as much, and have made such an impact on the arts as the Canadian-born legend, Leonard Cohen. His newest studio album, You Want It Darker, is as imaginative and inventive as one could hope for.

The album is low, dark and laid-back. In a weird way, it reminds me of the last few Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds albums, but with less improvisation and a different sort of darkness. Upon first listen I was blown away and speechless.

His low voice is like honey and with simple melodies and sincere lyrics he touches the sole of the listener. Regardless of the dark tone and theme, part of Cohen’s genius is making relatable, accessible music and I wouldn’t hesitate to include You Want it Darker in this tradition.

As usual, Cohen writes to confront difficult topics mortality being one of the most prominent on this album. The first song on the album, the title track, “You Want It Darker” especially so, as Cohen writes references to Judaism directly quoting the Kaddish, singing “Hineni” a Hebrew word meaning “here I am”, and singing “I’m ready my lord.”

At 82 years old, Cohen sounds great and his voice and lyrics are clear examples of the miles and years he has travelled. He has lost nothing and his raspy voice has a broad range of tone and intensities.

Cohen says in a quote posted to his Facebook page on October 21, “You Want It Darker is kind of short on jokes, but it seems to be high on energy, so I hope that the final effect is one of invigoration rather than suffocation.” He more than achieved his goal.

Lyrically, the songs deal with far more than just mortality and religion. Like every good album, there is lots of talk about love. On the whole actually, the album is about love, not unlike his past work.

Between death, love and religion, Cohen draws us the connections that he can see through his life experiences and lets us experience these concepts on a grandiose scale as well as the smallest and most personal.

For example, in “Traveling Light,” he plays with the idea of light travelling as well as his own leaving someone and travelling lightly. In the first verse he writes “My once so bright, my fallen star / I’m running late, they’ll close the bar” bringing the Universe down to his listeners to see it as represented in his life and vice-versa.

The song “Treaty” is another beautiful song playing with religion, love and war. All themes which might sound tired by now but I assure you they are as entertaining, heart-felt and as well put as possible. Cohen sings “I’m angry and I’m tired all the time / I wish there was a treaty, I wish there was a treaty \ Between your love and mine” these straightforward and powerful words are shiver-inducing as you can hear the tension in his voice as he grasps for common ground.

You Want It Darker is a stunning example of Cohen’s poetic ability and genius and if, as he suggests it might be, it is his final album it would be a perfect last note. I do hope however that, if he is so willing, the album isn’t his last, so that audiences can experience more of what he explored on the album.

I happily give Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker an 88/100.

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