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Songs of Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen

1967 

Leonard Cohen's music is somewhat of an acquired taste.  It's incredibly stripped-down, moody, quiet music, but it also has a certain brooding magic to it.  It has an air of intimacy and mystery to it, which is what makes Songs of Leonard Cohen such an engaging listen.  The music is primarily folk-based, featuring mostly acoustic guitar with occasional backing female vocals, which give many of the songs an added layer of warmth and depth.  And that's the prevailing vibe on this album: it's depth.  Leonard Cohen is primarily known for his songwriting, and most of his classic songs can be found here on his first album (i.e. "Suzanne", "Master Song", "Stranger Song", etc.)  These songs are beautifully done, and really capture the sparse, intimate, and melancholy vibe that characterizes the album as a whole.  Leonard Cohen is a unique musician, more-so a poet than a musician, but the accompanying strings and sounds found on his debut album help bring his poetry to life, creating a personal and intimate listening experience that was unique among all other singer-songwriters of the time.  A classic album.

8.8

You Want It Darker

Leonard Cohen

2016

Aside from Leonard Cohen's first (and best) album, I've always had a little bit of trouble fully appreciating/absorbing his other records.  Most of them have their moments here and there, but none of them have ever really measured up to the hypnotic depth and beauty of Songs of Leonard Cohen as a whole.

That is until, perhaps fittingly, his final album You Want It Darker.  Eerily similar to David Bowie's Blackstar released earlier to 2016, You Want It Darker was also released a few weeks before Leonard Cohen's death.  And also like Blackstar, You Want It Darker carries a lot of emotional weight because of it.  Although Cohen was not secretly fighting a terminal illness like Bowie, he was 82 years old at the time of this album's release, so themes of death, penance, and reflection permeate You Want It Darker, and as you might expect, it's all the more compelling an album because of it.

Granted, Leonard Cohen albums are often drab, melancholy, but also intimate affairs, and all those traits are certainly present on You Want It Darker.  The difference here is that practically all the songs on You Want It Darker are engaging and really quite good.  Every song feels important, and nothing here really sinks into the background as a result.  Yes, these are subdued tunes (obviously), but they're all executed in the same type of compelling and affecting manner that he hadn't really been able to capture consistently across the span of an entire album since his 1967 debut.  There's a certain sacred beauty and grace in these songs, a certain stillness that adds an almost holy element to the proceedings on You Want It Darker.

The opening title track certainly sets the tone for the album, and while it's a compelling song, the main highlights for me are the profound "Treaty" and "If I Didn't Have Your Love".  "Treaty", in particular, seems to strike a deep emotional cord for me personally.  It stirs the same type of emotions that Bob Dylan's classic "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" conjures up in me.  It's not quite in that category of greatness, but, it is similarly affecting and powerful.  Really moving song.

The same could be said of "If I Didn't Have Your Love" which, not to make another Dylan comparison but, channels the type of emotions that "Make You Feel My Love" provides.  In fact, the production and tone of You Want It Darker as a whole is actually pretty similar to Dylan's Time Out of Mind.  The difference of course, is there's no bitterness really here from Cohen, but rather a truly affecting sense of grace and beauty on You Want It Darker.  There's more love and warmth to be found here.

That, coupled with Cohen's passing shortly after the release of this album, make You Want It Darker a pretty special album.  Everything Leonard Cohen represented is captured almost perfectly on this his final album.  His depth, sensitivity, sincerity, and uniquely poignant poetry are all on beautiful display here, and it's really deeply affecting for the most part.

You Want It Darker is everything you would hope Leonard Cohen's final album to be.  And while, as you would expect, this is a mood-specific album, that's what makes it so special.  As the man once said himself:

"A song that is useful, that touches somebody, must be measured by that utility alone".

You Want It Darker is certainly a touching and graceful goodbye from one of the greatest poets of his generation.

R.I.P Leonard Cohen.

8.4

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