This album arrives three years after the passing of Leonard Cohen, and also marks three years since the release of the last album of his lifetime “You Want it Darker”. The songs on this album were recorded around the same time as those that feature on “You Want it Darker”, and Cohen’s son Adam, a musician in his own right, has taken the intervening years to finish the songs that his father couldn’t building the songs around his father’s recorded vocal takes. In addition, Adam has spoken conversations he had with his father about the ideas for arrangements of the songs, with Leonard himself aware that he wouldn’t be around to finish them.
Crucially, this album doesn’t at any stage feel like a cash-in on the legacy of Cohen, nor is the rawness of his voice hidden by studio trickery or overabundant instrumentation. The music exists to accent the words and the voice delivering them. Sometimes that voice is clear and strong and other times it’s merely a whisper, but it is distinctively Cohen. “Happens to the Heart”, “Night of Santiago”, and especially “Thanks for the Dance” all have the feel of Cohen songs that have been around for a lifetime and have an air of familiarity about them despite being brand new. We also get moments of introspection which reflect his physical ailments that were clearly affecting him at the time of recording in songs like “The Goal” and The Hills”. On “The Goal” he addresses the confines of not being able to leave his house with lines like “I sit in my chair/I look at the street/the neighbour returns my smile of defeat”. The album closes out with a fitting epitaph in the form of “Listen to the Hummingbird”, the hummingbird having been a feature on the artwork on “You Want it Darker” as well as his 1992 album “The Future” and 1979’s “Recent Songs”. In an interview conducted in 2016, Cohen spoke about his fondness for them, and how he tried to write songs over the years featuring hummingbirds, but none of them ever made it to an album. If this is to be the last Cohen album, it makes it all the more fitting that this album closes the way it does.
“Thanks for the Dance” feels like someone who has accepted what was soon to come and seems to greet it with hope, while reflecting on their life. Unlike a lot of posthumous records where the passing of the artist is almost played upon the way the songs are produced, this album never trades on that fact and instead seems to remains consistent with how the songs would have sounded if Cohen was still with us. It’s a melancholic, nostalgic, gentle, and utterly amazing record.
These are the talented and choice words of our man Kevin Dillon.
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