How Leonard Cohen said farewell on his final album

Much like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen’s final album is filled with images and lyrics that show the end was in sight

Astute fans of Leonard Cohen will have got a shiver on first listening to his last album, You Want It Darker, released just a month before his death at the age of 82.

"If you are the dealer, I'm out of the game/If you are the healer, it means I'm broken and lame," he boomed on the sublime opening title track. This was Cohen in reflective form, considering the paths untravelled and the damage done, shot through with religious themes. The void appeared to be opening; Cohen was on heavy seas. There was a very real sense that Cohen, perhaps taken a lead from David Bowie, was set to bid farewell with a final musical chapter.

“Hineni,” he sang, a Hebrew word meaning Here I am. “I’m ready, my lord.” Cohen it seemed was departing, but on his own terms.

The album was largely recorded in Cohen's home in Los Angeles, and produced by his son Adam. These were not easy sessions. Cohen was suffering from severe back injuries and had given up on the record after a year of work. His son drew him back into it, installing a medical chair in the home studio, and Cohen responded with some of the finest vocals he has put on record. There are certainly some production cracks papered over, but that voice and its timbre, closely micced and almost eerily intimate, never lets the songs down.


This isn't an album about settling scores; Cohen always seemed too classy for that. On Treaty he might be "angry and tired all the time", and wishing "there was a treaty between your love and mine". But the sweet piano arrangement makes it sing more of wry surmise and experienced acceptance than anything approaching despair. On the Level finds him swinging things a little, but never into territory that's too sweet to the taste. "I'm leaving the table. I'm outta the game," he almost hums on Leaving the Table, and it's easy to picture the lights going down and the bar being closed up: "You don't need a lawyer; I'm not making a claim."

You didn't have to dig deep on this record to find the farewell. On Traveling Light, Cohen sang: "It's au revoir / My once so bright, my fallen star / I'm running late, they'll close the bar / I used to play one mean guitar". And then he finished with a flourish, a quietly devastating string reprise of the album's opening song, that peerless voice grown silent at last.