The elusive Leonard Cohen wrote and recorded up till his final moments and the posthumous release of Thanks for the Dance stands as testimonial to the life of a poet in dialogue with the margins of human and artistic capacity. His son, Adam Cohen gathered the fragments of unfinished works and along with a group of musical collaborators produced what would act as the songwriter’s last words upon this life. In its entirety, the album stands up to be as full of life and integrity and as absolutely essential as any other release of his career.
Opening with ‘Happens to the heart’, the album establishes a familiar theme of the artist; his powerful and often tangled encounters with love and sexuality. The Spanish laud is steady, gently meandering over a glass like piano while the ever sooty voice of Cohen leads an almost spiritual meditation upon a lifetime of erotic affairs. The mandolin of ‘Moving On’ seems a melancholic reflection of Cohen’s formative and artistically fertile days spent on the Greek Island of Hydra, the growing lilt of the Spanish guitar carrying forth a vivaciously blissful memory in ‘The Night of Santiago’. The lyrical attention to his lover that is carried throughout much of the album in lines such as ‘you kick off your sandals and shake out your hair’ somehow bears a power of intimacy beyond that found in lines more sexually blatant. The title track, set to a gentle waltz lends a peculiar tenderness. Soft and lulling it is sincere in its reflections and extends to a sweet acceptance of the light beginning to fade.
Beginning with the holocaust ‘Puppets’ firmly moves from delicate recollections to contemplation of human nature and a cyclical will for violence. Though far from raging the song evokes an ethereal shroud of choral chant, electronics and the heavenly hush of bells. The final track, ‘Listen to the Humming Bird’ watches the fog clear as the musicians show significant restraint allowing for only a mournful piano and ambiance to push forth the gravelly voice of the spoken verse. In this way the humility of the musical collaborators is emblematic of Cohen’s power as a lyricist and a poet above all else.
Offering great introspection to this wonderful career Thanks for the Dance, as described as ‘the most perfect goodbye imaginable’ and if not topping its predecessors is most certainly the ultimate compliment to a most wonderful legacy.
Image: Old Ideas, LLC via Pitchfork