“I’m ready, my lord…” so sang Leonard Cohen on You Want It Darker, his final album that hit shelves just weeks before his death. If You Want It Darker was his farewell, then Thanks For the Dance – released today from Columbia/Legacy – is a gift from beyond.
The album was completed by son Adam Cohen, as the younger Cohen had been instructed. The pieces were in various stages of completion when Adam began to reappraise the work. Some were no more than vocal tracks with no accompaniment at all. Yet, in their completed form these tracks don’t feel like leftovers, or unfinished bits and pieces. Together, the nine songs make up a cohesive whole. To achieve the goal, he brought together a stellar cast of frequent collaborators and acolytes. The result is not some footnote, nor is it a slap-dash cash-grab. It’s a fully realized piece – Leonard’s final word.
Fans who have studied the credits to Cohen’s albums will no doubt recognize the team of musicians who contribute to Thanks For the Dance. There’s Javier Mas, whose Spanish laud became a trademark of later Cohen albums, songwriter and muse Sharon Robinson, longtime backing vocalist Jennifer Warnes, and the reliable instrumentalist and producer Patrick Leonard, who worked closely alongside Cohen on his final albums. Meanwhile, at the PEOPLE festival in Berlin, Adam Cohen brought in Beck, Feist, Damien Rice, and members of Arcade Fire and The National to lend their hand. Back in Montreal, Daniel Lanois added piano contributions. Despite all the star-power, the guests don’t draw too much attention to themselves (in fact, there are places where they could be more involved). From minute one, it’s Leonard’s album through and through.
Thanks For the Dance is not a long album. Its nine tracks total just over half an hour, yet the songs carry such weight that it’s somehow profound in its brevity. Tracks like the opener “Happens to the Heart” build on trademarks of Cohen’s later style, with its talk-sung matter-of-factness (“I was always working steady, but I never called it art”) towering over a gentle, atmospheric accompaniment of piano, the trademark laud, and an understated but powerful accompaniment by the stargaze ensemble. Cohen’s ever-deepening voice sounds out like a voice from the heavens, contemplating love, sex, and spirituality as only he can. There’s the classic humorous seduction on the album highlight “The Night of Santiago,” the mournful and wry lamenting of “Moving On,” and the end-of-the-world wisdom of “It’s Torn,” all signs of skills unextinguished, even in the face of death. But Cohen has never been one to avoid the inevitable. From the pills for which he thanks God in the beautifully building track “The Hills,” to the description of a man who can’t leave his house or answer his phone, there are images of an elder Cohen – still contemplating the complexities of love and life, power and greed. As the final statement of the album, Cohen recites “Listen To the Hummingbird,” a tender poem that seems to say that though he’s spent decades contemplating, he doesn’t have all the answers. “Listen to the hummingbird / Whose wings you cannot see,” Cohen says, his voice detached in an atmospheric blend of piano, keys, and vocals. “Listen to the hummingbird / Don’t listen to me,” he says. Yet, as the song fades, it’ll be hard not to hit play once more for just another listen.
Thanks for the Dance is released today on Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings and is available in a number of configurations. You can order it now from the following links. Scroll down for a newly released promo video that delves into the making of the album!