You Want It Darker is a succinct journey into the psyche of a man who knows his career is at an end, but that isn’t going to stop him going out on a high.
You Want It Darker is the fourteenth and final studio album by Leonard Cohen. As with all his best work, Songs of …, Songs From a Room, New Skin, etc, You Want It Darker skirts a fine line between euphoria and despair. The title is a dead giveaway of Cohen’s intentions. Having forged a career through writing brooding ballads some would claim that his albums are dark enough, but long-term fans want/hope the melancholy maestro to plumb his despondent depths and to that one step further. The title seems to says 'You thought I was dark before, wait until you hear this…' And in a way Cohen is right as he’s pulled out all the stops to create an album that is as bleak as it is entertaining. But don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom, he offers, as usual glimpses of redemption.
The album starts with the title track. “If you are the dealer, I'm out of the game. If you are the healer, it means I'm broken and lame. If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame, You want it darker, We kill the flame”. Musically it feels like 1992’s ‘Waiting for the Miracle’. Drum machines and keyboards are the order of the day, but a choir underpins everything giving it a euphoria that is sometimes missing on his previous works. This reverence plays into the topic of death and loss that permeates You Want It Darker. Standout track ‘Treaty’ sounds like classic Cohen – it feels like a distant cousin of ‘Hallelujah’, but more waltzy. The music is slow burning and brooding, but as the song progresses the euphoria bubbles and builds while Cohen croons along effortlessly. The opening verse “I've seen you change the water into wine, I've seen you change it back to water too, I sit at your table every night, I try but I just don’t get high with you” shows that at 82 Cohen hasn’t lost his skill for imagery. At its heart ‘Treaty’ is classic break up song, but like all Cohen’s best work you don’t what he’s breaking up from, a relationship, religion or life. It's the questions that aren’t answered that make ‘Treaty’ another exquisite addition not only to You Want It Darker, but to his back catalogue. ‘Leaving the Table’ carries on the themes of ‘Treaty’, but due to some clever wordplay it doesn’t feel as bleak as the previous three tracks. “You don’t need a lawyer, I’m not making a claim. You don't need to surrender, I’m not taking aim”, but just when you think you have an idea of the song Cohen’s baritone growls “I don’t need a lover, no, no, no, The wretched beast is tame. I don’t need a lover, So blow out the flame” and we’re right back to the title track, questioning not just Cohen’s, but our own mortality.
On You Want It Darker Laughing Len basically says everything he has left to say. When ‘String Reprise/Treaty’ finishes, you immediately feel the pangs of remorse and regret that you didn’t pay as much attention to his later years as you should have and now it’s all over. His last two albums, Old Ideas and Popular Problems showed that there was still a musical spark in the trouble troubadour. While they never eclipsed his early majesty they did come close and reminded us why he was such an exciting and enigmatic talent in the first place. However there is that overriding feeling you get after listening to his earlier work, Song of Love and Hate in particular, that is chocked full of melancholic comedy. You get the enormous bleak/downer moments, like on the title track, but there are moments when you smile at the witty word play. The album closes with ‘String Reprise/Treaty’ and ends with the line “And I wish there was a treaty, I wish there was a treaty between your love and mine” and there is. It’s this album.
8Nick Roseblade's Score