Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
First of all, the title alone gives me chills. You Want It Darker? Leonard Cohen is almost the king of darkness, singing about subjects such as mental illness, suicide, murder, and mayhem. How much darker can it get? Well if the first song is any indication, it appears he is talking about his own death. In the song he states, “I’m ready, my Lord” which is accompanied by chanting from a clergyman, either a Rabbi or Priest. I will say, I thought the song should have just been Cohen singing or speaking. There are some background vocals that take away from the power of this composition. I think less would have been more in this case. Similar to Johnny Cash’s rendition of Hurt. Either way, still very compelling and haunting.
Cohen can still write very provocative and evocative songs as evidenced by You Want It Darker. There are songs that seem to indicate Cohen’s readiness to die such as You Want It Darker, Leaving The Table, Travelling Light, and It Seemed The Better Way. Other songs seem to reconcile his relationships prior to departing this world with such songs as Treaty, On The Level, and If I Didn’t Have Your Love. Steer Your Way seems to be about the afterlife once death has overtaken him. So, all of the songs are very heavy and melancholy. Not an album you want to play at a dinner party, but still should be a crucial part of any one’s collection. His writing and song composition is still amazing. There are still moments when I listen to You Want It Darker that my jaw drops at the intelligence and profound nature of the writing. A true master of the written and spoken word. Cohen is forever linked to the song Hallelujah, but his works are so much vaster than that one song. This collection of songs trump (no pun intended) Hallelujah. These songs are deep and meaningful and reflective of a man’s life and body of work. Have a listen on NPR prior to the release date. You can go to Mr. Cohen’s website to pre order this masterpiece.