Watch 4 Music Videos That Bring to Life Songs from Leonard Cohen’s Final Album, Thanks for the Dance

Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Dark­er is a bleak mas­ter­piece. Released just 19 days before his death, the album sounds like a warn­ing from beyond, one Cohen seemed to know we’d nev­er heed. His sym­pa­thy for human fail­ure reached its denoue­ment in the posthu­mous Thanks for the Dance, a project “much less apoc­a­lyp­tic” in tone than its pre­de­ces­sor, writes Thomas Hobbs at NME. Unlike many a posthu­mous album, “this point of dif­fer­ence more than jus­ti­fies the record’s release,” even if the mate­r­i­al can “sound a lit­tle scrap­py” at times.

The posthu­mous album’s exis­tence is also jus­ti­fied by the fact that Cohen want­ed it released. He turned that respon­si­bil­i­ty over to his son, Adam, who also pro­duced You Want It Dark­er and who recruit­ed Beck, Feist, Bryce Dess­ner of the Nation­al, Damien Rice, Richard Reed Par­ry of Arcade Fire, and “long-time Cohen col­lab­o­ra­tors Javier Mas and Jen­nifer Warn­er” to fin­ish Thanks for the Dance.

Many of the songs began as strained vocal read­ings Adam record­ed, then lat­er craft­ed arrange­ments around, as he tells NPR.

I begged him, often “Just record this lyric. Let me sketch some­thing and based on your reac­tion, we’ll adapt.” I was very, very lucky to get him to have these read­ings. Some­times they were read­ings with no metro­nom­ic sig­na­tures, it was just a read­ing of poet­ry. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, on a few occa­sions, that’s all I was left with — just bare musi­cal sketch­es. But they were also so laden with instruc­tion.

Cohen was a lit­er­ary per­fec­tion­ist. “He’s sort of the oppo­site of Dylan, who had this from the hip [song­writ­ing process],” says his son. “My father was much more method­i­cal, he had a chis­el… there were big, big pieces at which he’d been at work for years.” That Cohen would leave work behind for oth­ers to fin­ish, how­ev­er, is ful­ly in keep­ing with his biggest themes: noth­ing is ever per­fect.

In my opin­ion, there’s some­thing about the the­sis of this man’s work, which is about bro­ken­ness. One of the main points of inter­est was this idea of “the bro­ken hal­lelu­jah,” or “the crack in every­thing, that’s how the light gets in.” I think I’m not trans­gress­ing by say­ing one of the posi­tions of what “Hap­pens to the Heart” is bleak, that it breaks. But it’s how one sees one’s own heart break­ing: if you see it as every­one’s heart break­ing, it recon­tex­tu­al­izes it. 

“Hap­pens to the Heart” is also the first posthu­mous film in a “new series of artis­tic respons­es to Leonard Cohen’s posthu­mous album,” curat­ed by Now­ness who “invit­ed a glob­al ros­ter of film­mak­ers and artists to present visu­al inter­pre­ta­tions of Leonard Cohen’s life and lyrics.”

Four of those short films are avail­able on YouTube, and you can watch them here. In addi­tion to “Hap­pens to the Heart,” they include “Mov­ing On,” “Thanks for the Dance,” and “The Hills.” They do not include “The Goal,” but you can stream three dif­fer­ent ver­sions on the Now­ness site. One of these uses “footage from NOWNESS’s exten­sive film archive” in a “visu­al elab­o­ra­tion on the album’s sixth track,” the site notes, “which evolved from a 1998 Cohen poem of the same name” — a quin­tes­sen­tial Cohen lyric filled with wry, mor­bid humor and com­pas­sion for uni­ver­sal human suf­fer­ing.

I can’t leave my house
Or answer the phone
I’m going down again
But I’m not alone

Set­tling at last
Accounts of the soul
This for the trash
That paid in full

As for the fall, it began long ago
Can’t stop the rain
Can’t stop the snow

I sit in my chair
I look at the street
The neigh­bor returns
My smile of defeat

I move with the leaves
I shine with the chrome
I’m almost alive
I’m almost at home

No one to fol­low
And noth­ing to teach
Except that the goal
Falls short of the reach

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Leonard Cohen’s Last Work, The Flame Gets Pub­lished: Dis­cov­er His Final Poems, Draw­ings, Lyrics & More

How Leonard Cohen & David Bowie Faced Death Through Their Art: A Look at Their Final Albums

New Ani­ma­tion Brings to Life a Lost 1974 Inter­view with Leonard Cohen, and Cohen Read­ing His Poem “Two Slept Togeth­er”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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