Reports of his imminent demise may be exaggerated, but they won’t always be. At 82 years of age, and with 2016 not being kind thus far to aging artists, it is only natural that the minds of Leonard Cohen and his fans would be turned to mortality. No one is saying that the bleak, brooding, minimalist tones of You Want It Darker – Cohen’s 14th studio album in his 50-year recording career – will be the last studio release from the poet-cum-musician. However, it is difficult not to think that the record is designed – at least in part – to remind the listening public that Cohen is currently alive and well, while also acting as a fitting epitaph to his six decades in the arts should he slip loose of this mortal coil in the near future.
Cohen’s famous, deep, gravelly FM radio voice is on full display with the eponymous track, You Want It Darker, and while his vocals border on monotonous, the backing from Cantor Gideon Zelermyer and the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir – coupled with the tracks strong bassline and subtle organ – hold the show together, ensuring the song is a standout. Treaty demonstrates good pacing of Cohen’s lyrics, although String Reprise/Treaty – a near instrumental, string quartet reimagining of Treaty – for the album’s conclusion, while pleasant enough, feels superfluous. The warm, female, backing vocals of On The Level are very good, distracting from Cohen’s sketchy vocal delivery early on the track.
Illustrating Cohen’s preference for minimalist compositions, Leaving The Table perfectly uses the guitar’s rhythm and the subdued, scratchy, backing of strings to add an edge of anxiety to the track, and Travelling Light also engages the combined aural dynamics of guitar and violin to generate an edgy atmosphere, albeit with a more traditional folk style. Support from a choir returns on Seemed The Better Way, providing a satisfying texture to the song. You Want It Darker takes a mere 36 minutes to deliver its 9 songs, and overall carries a dark chill-out vibe, which allows the listener to engage as deeply – or not – as they like with the subject matter. It’s difficult to find fault with the album’s composition, though the strength of Cohen’s voice and lyrics will ultimately be decided by the listener’s preferences.