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Monday, September 26, 2016, 10:56

Leonard Cohen at 82, darker and solitary

By Agence France-Presse in New York
Leonard Cohen at 82, darker and solitary
Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen will release a new album in October. (Photo / AFP)

Leonard Cohen has spent a lifetime meditating on his relationship to God and, at 82, he finds himself solitary as he wrestles with the ultimate metaphysical questions.

You Want It Darker, the 14th album by the Canadian singer and poet, brings out Cohen at his most classic and most probing as he ponders the nature of the individual and of the Almighty.

Celebrating his 82nd birthday on Wednesday, his record label announced that You Want It Darker, produced by his musician son Adam Cohen, will come out on Oct 21.

The album immediately opens with a flashback to the cultural icon's Montreal childhood with a rich yet mournful chorus from his hometown's Cantor Gideon Zelermyer and Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue choir.

Yet the signature sound on You Want It Darker is sparse, with resonant acoustic guitar and string bass, the music reinforcing Cohen's lonesome spiritual quest.

Cohen - whose best-known song, the oft-covered Hallelujah, explored God and the meaning of music - returns to biblical heritage on the title track of You Want It Darker.

Cohen in the song struggles to reconcile with the existence of evil - and how his life's own bourgeois concerns stack up in comparison.

Cohen, his influence and legacy undisputed, had unofficially retired in the 1990s and retreated to a Buddhist monastery in the Los Angeles area.

He initially resumed music for an unspiritual reason - his longtime manager was found to have stolen much of his savings.

But Cohen has found a new burst of creative energy since his return, with You Want It Darker following the emotionally intense yet more musically diverse album Popular Problems in 2014.

After the death in July of Marianne Ihlen - the Norwegian woman with whom he lived on the Greek island of Hydra and who inspired his song So Long, Marianne - her friend revealed a final letter from Cohen in which he declared his "endless love" and wrote: "I think I will follow you very soon."

With the seriousness of You Want It Darker, Cohen shows little of the more ironic side that gave him a pop culture mystique in the 1980s.

Yet there may be a hint of his old playful side. After releasing his last album, he joked that his resolution at age 80 was to resume smoking after years of depriving himself for health reasons.

The cover of You Want It Darker shows a grim, unshaven Cohen sporting a top hat - and a cigarette dangling between his fingers.

 
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