Leonard Cohen’s Third Act: The Must-Read “You Want It Darker” Album Review

The official announcement of Leonard Cohen’s “You Want It Darker” album [Sept 21, 2016] has triggered a tsunami of reviews. The must-read critique, however, is Leonard Cohen’s Third Act by Brian D. Johnson (Maclean’s: Sept 21, 2016). Johnson, who has interviewed Leonard on multiple occasions, has authored an especially insightful, well-written consideration of the album. I’ve included excerpts to provide a sense of the quality but nothing replaces reading the entire article.

It’s a deft title [You Want It Darker], reminding us that the artist who once dubbed himself “the grocer of despair” has always liked to deflect solemnity with the backhanded wit of a gravedigger trapped in a gold mine. But You Want It Darker is not just another Leonard Cohen album about love and death. Crowning a career that saw him perform a triumphant world tour in his late seventies, it arrives as a sad and monumental milestone.

Leonard recorded the album at his home in Los Angeles under extreme duress. Afflicted by “severe back injuries, and other disagreeable visitations,” he says he abandoned the record after “a year of intense labour,” only to be rescued by his 45-year-old son. “Adam sensed that my recovery, if not my survival, depended on my getting back to work,” Leonard writes in the album liner notes. “He took over the project, established me in a medical chair to sing, and brought these songs to completion.” In a recent email interview, Leonard told me he was suffering from “multiple compression fractures in the spine,” and that “Adam got me out of bed to finish this record.”

Adam’s spare but exquisite production frames his father’s words with a new kind of musical architecture. Gone are the cold electronic keyboards of earlier records, replaced by warm waves of violin and cello. And the chorus of female harmonies that usually mirror Leonard’s vocals is almost entirely absent. Instead, a cantor male choir accompanies him for the first time. “That was just one in a long line of indications the record was going to be different,” says Adam. “The record has authority and originality and truth. It rises above sloganeering—his own past sloganeering.”

The full review can be found at Leonard Cohen’s Third Act.

I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted Sept 22, 2016.

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