It’s Thanksgiving today in the US which, unlike the spurious phenomenon which will occur tomorrow (and which I refuse to name), is something we might do well to import. Of course it’s tainted, because everything is tainted now; tainted with the knowledge and guilt of colonialism and with the awareness that many people around the world don’t have much to be thankful for. But those of us in the blogosphere surely do; at least I do, and one of them is the latest Cohen album (yes, he’s still churning them out from beyond the grave.) Actually to say churning out does him a great disservice, for Cohen was always the slowest of writers and could take years to produce a song and decades over an album; of all artists he knew how to take time over his work. But death seems to have sped him up a little, for this one has been less than three years in the making; the bones of it are recordings he left behind and the meat on the bones is the performances by those he worked with in his lifetime. It has a bleak, faded beauty with that unmistakable Cohen flavour and as to whether it works, it’s an incredible fusion of voices and intentions.
It feels like a return to his beginnings; one voice in a room, a guitar, other voices slowly coming in with maybe a gentle sax, a Spanish guitar, a piano, some distant drums. This is no cynical attempt to milk his legacy but a genuine collection of unreleased work made more beautiful by the collaboration of his old partners. The title track recalls both Joan of Arc and Take this Waltz. The Hills builds from a single voice to a near-orchestral climax and The Night of Santiago features the plaintive passion of a flamenco guitar, echoing Cohen’s love of Lorca.
It feels like Cohen singing through an open door after supper. They could even be in the same room.
Perhaps they were.