- 23 Dec 19
The appropriate response to any posthumous album should be one of wariness. How many demos did Jeff Buckley actually record? Remember Amy Winehouse’s Lioness? No? Good. This is different. Cohen was a beloved artist because that’s exactly what he was, an artist, and one of the few figures you could actually point at in music and say “poet”.
There's an old story, which might even be true, where Cohen expresses his admiration for the song 'I And I' to Bob Dylan and asks him how long it took to write. "About fifteen minutes," replied Dylan, who then asked Cohen how long ‘Hallelujah’ took him. "Two years," Cohen said, illustrating the craftsmanship and effort that went into a song that seems impervious to tarnishing despite so many people’s best efforts.
The vocals here were recorded as Cohen worked on You Want It Darker, and this album can be taken as a continuation of that one although it is, if anything, a superior work. Cohen’s son Adam, using conversations with his father as a guide, directs the marvellously sympathetic arrangements with help from Daniel Lanois, Beck Jennifer Warnes, Damien Rice, Feist, amongst others.
It’s the lyrics and that voice that are the real prizes though. There are sly digs at himself in ‘Happens To The Heart’ – “I was always working steady, but I never called it art”. His everlasting adoration of women comes through ‘Moving On’, the title track, even ‘It’s Torn’, and certainly in the explicit story ‘The Night Of Santiago’ – “I took off my necktie, and she took off her dress, my belt and pistol set aside, we tore away the rest.” I would never presume to attempt to define the power Cohen has over women, but I do know that to talk about him to any female with blood pumping through her head and heart is to watch her instantly lose interest in anything to do with you. Competing with a poet is akin to dodging raindrops. “I wasn’t born a gypsy to make a woman sad.”
There’s a sad state of the world address in ‘Puppet’, meditations on his own frailty in ‘The Goal’ and ‘The Hills’ and an examination of the nature of beauty in ‘Listen To The Hummingbird’ that his beloved Federico García Lorca would have been proud to claim.
Show me another artist whose final work is every bit as good as their first? A near-perfect record, and a beautiful adieu.