thu 11/08/2022

CD: Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker

CD: Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker

A slow joy-ride through the depths of the underworld

The opening track of Leonard Cohen’s new album says it all: the hum of a spine-chillingly eerie male choir, joined by the throb of an irresistible bass line. We're in for a slow joy-ride through the depths of the underworld. In “You Want It Darker”, one of his unquestioned masterpieces, a title-song as rich in soulful images as anything he has ever written, and in a voice close to a whisper, Cohen alludes to “a million candles burning for the help that never came”. He is, as ever, singing of the shadows that fill our inner and outer worlds, “a lullaby for suffering” in which the only consolation lies in some kind of surrender: as he intones in this mixture of prayer and a spiritual reflection, “I’m ready, my Lord.”

The males voices are members of the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir. They are joined near the end of the song by cantor Gideon Y. Zelermyer, whose tenor melisma contrasts beautifully with Cohen’s bass half-spoken, half-sung vocal, as he intones “Hineni, hineni”, the Hebrew for “I am here”. This is an album that resonates with presence: there is no romance and illusion, only acceptance of the vagaries of love, the pain of loss and the reality of grief.

The production is spare but eloquent, with some stirring violin obbligato on several songs, not least the valedictory “Travelling Light”, a melancholy meditation on departures of every kind, trivial and terminal. The choir returns in “It Seemed the Better Way”, where Cohen alludes to the terrible vulnerability and recurring doubt that haunts anyone who embraces awareness rather than blind faith. The plaintive violin, a faint echo of the shtetls that Cohen’s forbears came from, colours the magnificent “Steer Your Way”, another rich poem bursting with allusions to an open-ended and paradox-filled spirituality.

As that other Jewish elder, Bob Dylan, honours the standards that Sinatra made famous, returning to the popular culture and beautifully controlled emotion that inspired him, Leonard Cohen continues his extraordinary trajectory as poet, priest and entertainer. There is a depth here that eludes the Nobel Prize winner – for all his genius. Cohen courts what is most uncomfortable in the human condition and transforms that terrifying unease into something of great beauty – and in the process, some comfort too.

Overleaf: listed to 'You Want It Darker'

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