Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

And now we reach the last entry in my major series of incredible finds at Sonic Boom in Taranna with Mike. It’s one I wasn’t sure I wanted to play.

You’ll think me silly, but I haven’t listened to this last Leonard Cohen album before or after his death. Not until this post. 

Understand, I have been a Leonard fan most of my life. I got into his books first, back in high school, then the music later. His death really knocked me for a loop. Which is silly, because it’s not like I knew the guy personally. Yet through his works of art, with that inimitable voice in my ear, it still felt like I did. He was just always there. Then suddenly he wasn’t. I’ve already posted about it here.

I bought this CD in Toronto at Sonic Boom, same as the John K. Samson, where I told Mike that come hell or high water, no matter what else I bought, I had to have this new release. And there it was, on a rack right by the front door. Meant to be. Of course, Leonard was still alive, when I bought it.

There were 43 other items I bought that day, all of which I heard before getting to this one. I was saving the best for last. And Leonard went and died on us in the intervening time it took me to reach this one in the stack, before I’d even heard the record.

So we’re back to you probably thinking me silly. Why am I so precious about this? It’s just a damn CD, play it! It might even provide some closure! So I did play it, but it took me some work to get there. It’s the last Leonard record. Sure, there’ll be posthumous releases, but this one is his last. It matters. It’s the bookend to an extraordinary life. The words will carry that much more meaning. I wanted to taste every word, and imprint it on my mind.

It matters.

The 5th Annual Toronto Expedition Series, Part 44 (CD)

I’m gonna write this up, but in future, whenever I read this back, I’ll likely regret it and wish I had done most of it differently. I’ll never feel quite right about this, his last, record.

The title track starts us off with a typically slinky Leonard beat. His voice is front and center over a church-like choir of backing vocals. “I’m ready, my Lord.” It’s like he knew. It’s a rough track, lyrically, perfectly dark as it should be. He’s unapologetic about it all, though. Here’s the reality, folks. And, impossibly, through the good headphones, his voice is even deeper and gruffer than ever.

Treaty starts us off with gentle piano and Leonard’s whispered voice. Gorgeous. As the track builds, as the poetry comes to the fore, as the upright bass anchors ita ll, it’s glory.

On The Level arpeggios underneath’s Leonard’s words. His voice again the centerpiece. It quickly becomes an almost gospel track, organ and backing vocals and that drum beat. It even builds more but the beauty is already well in hand.

Leaving The Table is a sweet late-night barroom waltz. Such a simple arrangement, but therein lies the power. There is so much warmth here.

If I Didn’t Have Your Love brings back the church organ, with a simple hi-hat and Leonard’s voice right there in your ear. It’s the guitar part, and the repetitive piano, here, that make it perfect.

Traveling Light violin and guitar bring out the gypsy feel for this one in the intro, but then it simplifies, ,

It Seemed The Better Way sounds like it’s in a cold, open, semi-dark cathedral, the choir unseen yet audible. “Lift this glass of blood, try to say the grace…” and then the violin starts… holy hell what a track.

Steer Your Way is another beautiful track. It’s the restless strings that are the energy and the passion, Leonard’s poetry, delivered in that voice, the glue and the genius.

String Reprise/Treaty is all strings, and it’s bloody stunning. A gorgeous ending to, honestly, a perfect album.

In Sum:

I have yet to respond fully to the lyrics here, yet. I know, with time, I will get so much more out of this album all over again. But the last thing he said to us, on this album, is:

Steer your way, O my heart, though I have no right to ask
To the one who was never, never equal to the task
Who knows he’s been convicted, who knows he will be shot
Year by year, month by month, day by day
Thought by thought

They whisper still, the injured stones
The blunted mountains weep
As he died to make men holy
Let us die to make things cheap

And say the Mea Culpa, which you gradually forgot
Year by year, month by month, day by day
Thought by thought


We are none of us equal to the task.

We are none of us truly worthy of the pure genius that was Leonard Cohen.

R.I.P. Leonard. It pains me to even type that. This record is a perfectly fitting epitaph. I couldn’t have hoped for better, even knowing he made this record not knowing he would soon be gone. But I now long for so much more that will never come.

This record is fucking gorgeous.


Posted on December 12, 2016, in posts by aaron and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Having hardly listened to any Bowie this year (including the pre-ordered lavish BBC box), I quite understand the reticence, the uncertainty of how to engage with a swan song. I find your hesitancy does both you and the album credit.

    BTW, do we know that he didn’t know? (cf. Bowie knew he was dying and I got the impression LC did too).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Reticence, perfect word. Thanks for your kind message, too. I just go with my gut. 🙂

      It’s quite possible he knew, I should change that line (thanks!). Cancer has a way of making itself known, after all. But with Leonard, he deflected and reflected so much, I doubt he’d have said anything publicly. Some folks found meaning in his letter to Marianne, so who knows.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really think this is the best album to come out this year.


  3. Nice post Aaron, thanks for writing this


  4. Nice post, Aaron. I haven’t heard this yet, but a friend of mine assures me it’s very brilliant.

    As for knowing, I guess it’s always impossible to say for sure, but I think the interview he’d done with the New Yorker a couple of months back suggested that maybe he did.


  5. Although 2016 has been the most painful year for stars (and it continues even as we speak, RIP Zsa Zsa), we can rest assured that in the case of some such as Bowie and Leonard, they went out on top. They someone managed to find the spark and tenacity to do one more. And not just one more, but one more great one. Incredible.


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