by Phil Scarisbrick
Posthumous records can be a cynical business. Once an artist has passed away, the continued release of their work usually shifts in focus from artistic expression to wringing every last penny available out of somebody’s legacy. The term ‘previously unheard’ being adorned on the cover of one of these releases usually means a collection of music that was never meant for public consumption. Before he passed away in 2016, Leonard Cohen had released You Want It Darker – one of the finest records of his career. However, there were vocals takes from these sessions that remained unfinished, with Cohen continuing to work on them with his son, Adam, until his final days. After his passing, Adam was determined to fulfil his father’s final wishes and complete the record they had been working on. What followed was a three-year project that saw a plethora of artists contribute to the final chapter of Cohen’s masterful back catalogue.
These artists included Damien Rice, Leslie Feist, Jennifer Warnes, Beck, Patrick Watson and Daniel Lanois, who all joined the project at various points – including sessions at 2018’s collaborative PEOPLE Festival – to weave their respective musical fabric around the final, immortal words. The result is an incredibly poignant collection that works as the perfect accompaniment to You Want It Darker. The worn, dry vocals that Cohen managed to record are overflowing with emotional punch as he covers subjects ranging from faith (‘I got my shit together/Meeting Christ reading Marx’), sex (‘Thirty seconds baby is all we’ve got to love/And if they catch us laughing they gonna rough us up’) and politics (‘German puppers burnt the Jews/Jewish puppets did not choose’). Overall though, he falls back on the theme that everyone can relate to: love. A love for the world around him, for the people he cherished and the shared experiences that created his storied and remarkable existence.
During the final song, Listen To Hummingbird, each verse instructs us to ‘Listen to Hummingbird/Don’t listen to me’. These were these the final words he ever recorded. They were also a final reminder that one of popular music’s most brilliant wordsmiths was not only full of humility, but was able to find the beauty in everything he wrote about.
The creation of this record cannot have been easy for his son, but rather than being one of the throwaway posthumous collections we’ve become accustomed to, the result is one final half hour in the company of a beautiful mind. Though it underlines the void which now remains in his absence, we should also be thankful for this final – wonderful – dance.
Secret Meeting score: 86