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Albums of the Year 2019: Leonard Cohen - Thanks for the Dance | reviews, news & interviews

Albums of the Year 2019: Leonard Cohen - Thanks for the Dance

Albums of the Year 2019: Leonard Cohen - Thanks for the Dance

The last magnificent testament of Leonard Norman Cohen

Leonard Cohen: a true poet who was also a great song and dance man

Leonard Cohen’s death, just as Trump finagled his way into the White House, was the cruellest of blows. Now more than ever we need his bitter, witty, ironic commentary and wry observations, his wonderful words delivered in that bottomless “golden voice” which on this, his final posthumous album, is deeper than ever.

Leonard Cohen’s death, just as Trump finagled his way into the White House, was the cruellest of blows. Now more than ever we need his bitter, witty, ironic commentary and wry observations, his wonderful words delivered in that bottomless “golden voice” which on this, his final posthumous album, is deeper than ever. There are many who came late to Cohen, the man lampooned in the 1970s and ‘80s as “Laughing Lenny” and “Captain Mandrax”. I was in my early teens when I first knowingly heard him, and I was entranced. I might not always have understood what he was singing about but I knew it was profound and often “adult” in that old-fashioned sense. (My late friend and mentor Robert Shelton, celebrated discoverer of Bob Dylan, always spoke of him as “a cunning linguist”, as “The Night of Santiago” here attests, and also as “that maudlin Montrealer”.)

Cohen was my first ever interview – December 1979, at London’s Montcalm Hotel, during the Recent Songs tour. I’d called up for a photo and been pressed to meet him – CBS, as then it was, was desperate to find someone to sit down with him at a time when he was deeply unfashionable. Courtly, charming, erudite – in person he did not disappoint. Nor did his 20th century comeback, when the world suddenly realised what it had been missing.

Cohen died leaving behind unfinished songs – inevitably, for he was a slow and painstaking writer, always rewriting, always striving for perfection. He requested his son Adam – who worked with him on You Want It Darker, released a week before his death – complete his work. At the release of Thanks for the Dance the younger Cohen explained: “Essentially, I wanted to take the listener on an unconscious journey through the sonic signatures of my father’s career, without it sounding like a regurgitation.” His father should be well pleased for it is a wonderful creation, Cohen’s last testament brought to live by top-notch musicians, including singer Jennifer Warnes, a superb interpreter who toured with Cohen.

It is unmistakeably a valedictory album – the words of a man who knows the sands of time have all but run out yet who still has so much to say and intends to say it with poetic precision. He gives thanks (to old friends, including Marianne, who died just a few months before him; and to God), reflects on his life and his loves, on mortality. The lyrics are profound, unselfconsciously clever and unforgettable: “I was always working steady/ But I never called it art/ I got my shit together/ Meeting Christ and reading Marx”, Cohen intones in the opening song, “Happens to the Heart”.  And in “The Hills”: I can’t make the hills/ The system is shot/ I’m living on pills/ For which I thank God” – I love the way the song doesn’t “end”, but is arrested mid-flight.

Bob Dylan deserved his Nobel but I wish Cohen had also been accorded the honour. From start to finish, his oeuvre was consistently brilliant.

Thank you, Leonard.

Two More Essential Albums from 2019
Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
Barb Jungr – Bob, Brel & Me

Gig of the Year
Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi

Track of the Year
Leonard Cohen – “The Night of Santiago”

The words of a man who knows the sands of time have all but run out yet who still has so much to say

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