Monday, 19 December 2016

My Top Ten Albums of 2016 - Number 4


4. Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker

Leonard Cohen's death came as less of a surprise than many of the other showbusiness fatalities of 2016: he was old, his health was known to be failing, and frankly, by the time November rolled round, and Trump was elected, very little shocked us anymore. But Cohen's death was still a very sad day in the history of popular music, brightened only by his parting shot, the superb You Want It Darker, which arrived in my collection on the day he said goodbye.

Unlike Bowie's final album which was all about maintaining the mystique and armour-plating the legend, You Want It Darker was a very personal affair, as most of Cohen's records are, staring mortality in the face like Johnny Cash did on his final records... then giving it a wry, sardonic wink. On the one hand it's a sad, rather pessimistic record about aging, fear and regret, yet it's bouyed by gallows humour and an uplifting spirit. Cohen's voice is apocalyptic, yet he's chosen his backing well, from male voice choirs to string quartets and crawling drumbeats that recall The Future. You Want It Darker is the title, but the darker it gets, the more cracks appear... and that's how the light gets in.

At only 9 tracks, the album is yet another of the year's successfully short discs, but Cohen packs a lot in, from standing face to face with his maker for a reckoning on the title track ("Hineni, I'm ready my lord...") to further religious allegory, coupled with political matchmaking on the sumptuous Treaty...
And I wish there was a treaty we could sign
I do not care who takes this bloody hill
I’m angry and I’m tired all the time
I wish there was a treaty
I wish there was a treaty
Between your love and mine
Then there's On The Level, which sounds very much like The Last Temptation of Leonard, followed by the gloriously resigned Leaving The Table, in which the infamous Ladies Man truly calls it a day...
I don’t need a lover, no, no, no
The wretched beast is tame
A beautiful soul to the very end, Leonard Cohen's life was summed up in a quote from a 1993 interview he gave in the Daily Telegraph...
“I don’t consider myself a pessimist at all. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel completely soaked to the skin.”
He found dry wit in even the darkest places, especially this final record. I doubt anyone will ever find a better way to say goodbye.


Next, at Number, yet another final album...although the two men responsible are both still with us... even if one of them ain't quite the man he used to be. Two out of three ain't bad.

 

8 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. No... but it will get cheesier.

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  2. It has been a year of sadness but how wonderful that both Leonard and Bowie were able to leave these parting albums for those who were with them for the journey. I am very afraid for what the new year will bring.

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    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJUhlRoBL8M

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  3. Thanks for that - set me up for the rest of the afternoon. "When you're feeling in the dumps, don't be silly chumps, just purse your lips and whistle - that's the thing!"

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  4. Leonard's last three albums have been among his very best in my estimation. Excellent call Rol.

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    Replies
    1. It's all downhill from here, I promise.

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  5. Even though I didn't praise the album as highly as you, I'm grateful for the opening two tracks(You Want It Darker, Treaty) which are among his best in years.
    Due to Cohen's age I knew his passing was coming, but it's still a shock. I read on genius.com the title track could be interpreted as about the holocaust.

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