Several months ago Leonard Cohen wrote to Marianne Ihlen, the lover and muse who had inspired ‘Marianne’ and ‘Bird On A Wire’. She was desperately ill with leukaemia and the end was near.
“Well, Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart,” Cohen said in the missive. “I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.”
Aged 82, and with so many friends already shuffled into the great beyond, Cohen is sharply aware of his mortality. Winter has come, the nights are drawing in.
This sense of things wending to a close suffuses his 14th studio album, the title track of which was premiered over the summer on the BBC historical melodrama Peaky Blinders.
“If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game,” he half croons/ half chants as a Jewish cantor ululates in the background. “If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame.”
You Want It Darker doesn’t lighten much across its remaining eight numbers, though some of Cohen’s parched wit is in evidence on ‘Leaving The Table’, his lines delivered in a sardonic burr.
But the record generally suggests a companion piece to 2014’s Popular Problems, with Cohen again ruminating quite straightforwardly on death, life and the hereafter.
That he is looking back as much as forward is confirmed by ‘On The Level’ which references the twinkling riff of his most famous composition, ‘Hallelujah’.
Here, and elsewhere, there is a suggestion of accounts being settled, affairs being quietly brought to a close. It’s a stunning document from an artist who has kept us gripped until the very end.