Now into his ninth decade, and just about 50 years after his debut record, Leonard Cohen has released a late-career masterpiece. A collection of spectral, hushed compositions (intimately arranged by his son and fellow singer/songwriter, Adam Cohen), You Want It Darker feels like a culmination; a reckoning with experience, with faith and with the dimming of the day.
In its twilit hues, Cohen’s 14th album seems to treat its title like a dare; every song is a further excursion into the shadowy mysteries that surround us. “We kill the flame,” Cohen intones (because, of course, he doesn’t really sing) on the title track, as bleak a promise as you might imagine. In this gathering dusk, much of the record is imbued with a sense of anguished doubt. Taking stock, the sage poet sees little of value, little to embrace in this anxious world. Love is tired and cold, religion a cruel con. Hell, even sex has lost its allure for the fabled ladies’ man. (“I don’t need a lover,” Cohen sighs. “That wretched beast is tamed.”)
But it isn’t cynicism or spite that drives his desolate view. Somehow, in his hands, such burn-it-all-down conclusions feel earned, reasoned and even constructive. “I do not care who takes this bloody hill,” he finally allows on Treaty. “I just can’t believe the static coming on.” Concede the hill. Tune out the static. “Oh please don’t make me go there, if there is a god or not,” Cohen pleads on Steer Your Way. To spend an hour with this record is to reflect on the horizon line as it races toward us. Don’t make me go there; here it comes.
You Want It Darker is frightening, aching and, finally, sad. But, on this gorgeous, essential record, the sadness is illuminated. It glows.
Top track: You Want It Darker