New Leonard Cohen Single Shines Dark Light On Religious Fanaticism

This week Leonard Cohen celebrated his 82nd birthday with the release of a new single “You Want It Darker”, the title track off his new album which will hit the shelves on October 21. Produced by his son Adam Cohen, this chilling little number features Leonard’s familiar sonorous spoken incantations over top a probing bassline, a church organ and the haunting backing vocals of a Montreal synagogue choir.

In his poems and lyrics Cohen has negotiated an uneasy truce with organized religion over the years, but even by his own standards of religious skepticism, this one is a sucker punch to the gut. It is sung/spoken from the perspective of a religious fanatic who uses his faith to justify, among other terrible things, the murder of innocent people:

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They’re lining up the prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
I struggled with some demons
They were middle class and tame
I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim
You want it darker
We kill the flame

Leonard never did pull his punches, but the sense among industry observers is that he’s really letting loose lyrically on this album because every indication is that this one could very well be his last. He didn’t tour in support of his last album, 2014’s Popular Problems, and there are no reports that he will tour this time out either.

Last month his farewell letter to Marianne Ihlen, the inspiration for “So Long Marianne”, was made public. In the letter Cohen wrote: Well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine”. This has led a lot of people to believe that Cohen’s health may be fading fast.

So if this album is indeed going to be the great man’s swan song it is destined to be a very important one. A press release outlining the other eight songs on the album show him venturing into other familiar territories – love, desire, old age – for maybe the last time. In the meantime, in a new post on his Facebook page this week Cohen describes his motivation at this point in his career:

As I grew older, I understood that instructions came with this voice. What were these instructions? The instructions were never to lament casually. And if one is to express the great inevitable defeat that awaits us all, it must be done within the strict confines of dignity and beauty.

Dignity and beauty. If there is anything this legendary poet and Rock songwriter has given us in his lifetime, those two concepts sit comfortably at the top of the list. The new album will surely deliver a lot more of the same.



Photo credit: By Rama (Own work) [CeCILL ( or CC BY-SA 2.0 fr (], via Wikimedia Commons

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