Thank you NPR! The venerable public broadcaster is streaming Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker as part of its First Listen program, and you can hear it below. You should probably stop whatever you’re doing and listen.
The album is, as its title suggests, very much concerned with dying light — it reflects on Cohen’s own mortality, and the sense that his time on Earth is approaching its end. (As you’ve probably read, he told The New Yorker‘s David Remnick earlier this month that “I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”) That same matter-of-fact approach is notable throughout You Want It Darker: one song is called “Leaving the Table” (“I’m leaving the table/ I’m out of the game”), and Cohen sounds tired, his voice more subterranean than ever.
But — and this is important — this is not a bleak record. People who don’t understand Cohen often dismiss him as morbid and depressing, but this record, like all his best work, is shot through with wry humor and an abiding sense of compassion. There is beauty in the dying of the light, too, and this album is like the deepest and most gravely beautiful of sunsets.
If this is Cohen’s last record — and it certainly seems like it will be — then it’s as compelling and memorable a farewell as David Bowie’s Blackstar was. And if 2016 is to be remembered as a year in which several of our brightest artistic flames were quieted, then the memory of the light they cast will, at least, be preserved in beauty. In a year of historical ugliness, it’s a reminder that humans are capable of exhibiting great love and creating great wonder.