LEONARD COHEN – You Want It Darker (Columbia): I should probably stop assuming Cohen’s gonna kick the bucket at the rate he’s going—since his eight-year hiatus was broken with 2012’s Old Ideas, You Want It Darker is his third in five years—but when he chants “Hineni, hineni / I’m ready my Lord,” challenging God head-on to take him out in the title song, not to mention spends all of that song—his best out of the three ‘death albums,’ let’s call them—singling Him out for all the suffering in the world’s brief but bloody history, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised to read the headline “Leonard Cohen Struck By Divine Lightning.”
And he doesn’t stop there. You could make an easy enough case that “Treaty” is about a human relationship instead of a spiritual one, but a chorus that ends with “Only one of us was real and that was me” sounds more like a challenge for the man upstairs to present Himself than it does any kind of too-late apology to an old lover. Even “On the Level” could be interpreted as a temporary suspension of faith or an abandonment of a lover who’s both the best and worst thing for him, which is a lot easier said than done.
I won’t deny there’s a romantic element to these songs—they’re so well-written that depending on where you are in your life you could extract several readings from them and never be wrong (like, say, a holy text, how about them apples?). And this is probably because Cohen, now in his eighty-second year, figured out at some point in his wonderfully long life that unconditional love for another person or a spiritual savior is an irrational sensation, one that, when you try to express it, comes out not as a completely logical screed but a collision of conflicting emotions. You want it darker? Remember to pop in this album when you have a real crisis of faith or lose the love of your life. I hope I’ll forget to. A MINUS