“I was always working steady / But I never called it art / I got my shit together / Meeting Christ and reading Marx
It failed my little fire / But it’s bright the dying spark / Go tell the young messiah / What happens to the heart...”
These are the opening lines on the posthumous Leonard Cohen album ‘Thanks For The Dance’. Now I know what you’re thinking posthumous albums are usually corporate releases to milk more money out of the fans of deceased artists. Biggie, 2Pac and Jimi Hendrix fans have been fleeced for years, but this time it feels different.
‘Thanks For The Dance’ was put together by Cohen’s son Adam from tracks that couldn’t be completed before his father’s death in November 2016. It features regular collaborators Javier Maus, lynchpin laud player of Cohen’s comeback shows, Jennifer Warnes and The Sharr Hashomayim Choir all feature along with Damien Rice, Feist, Beck, Daniel Lanois, Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire and Bryce Dessner of The National. These contributions help link the album to the rest of Cohen’s back catalogue.
One of the most important things about every Cohen album has been his voice and lyrics rather than the music. And ‘Thanks For The Dance’ is no exception. That glorious gravelly baritone oozes from the speakers. It isn’t as husky as on ‘You Want It Darker’, but there is an enjoyable gruffness that is hard to ignore.
The standout track is the album's closer ‘Listen To The Hummingbird’. In one of his final interviews Cohen sung it to journalist David Remnick and admitted that he might not be able to complete it before his death. On the album it is little more than Cohen’s breathy vocals with a muted piano. It is devastating. You can hear in Cohen’s that he knows he’ll never hear the finished song. There is remorse, but also hope. And this is what makes ‘Thanks for the Dance’ such a powerful listen.
For this project Ben Cohen has taken the vocal outtakes and sketches and has crafted wonderfully rich and vibrant music around them. Is it what Leonard would have wanted? We’ll never know, but it doesn’t sound out of place in his rich canon of work, which is the important thing. Long-term fans will revel in another chance to lap up his wisdom and that captivated audiences for almost 50 years.
The album closes with the words: “Listen to the hummingbird, Whose wings you cannot see. Listen to the hummingbird, Don't listen to me”. I’m afraid this once we should ignore Cohen’s advice and soak in the resonance of his thick husky vocals just a few more times.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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