Leonard Cohen: Thanks for the Dance review – a sublime final statement

<span>Photograph: Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images

After finishing You Want It Darker, which was released just 19 days before his death in 2016, aged 82, Leonard Cohen still wanted to add to his tower of song. Thus, he kept on writing and recording as life ebbed away, and the result is this beautiful posthumous collection. His songwriter son Adam has assembled a stellar cast of musicians, such as Daniel Lanois, Jennifer Warnes and Spanish guitarist Javier Mas, to do justice to the unfinished home recordings. However, the sparse, sublime instrumentation never takes the focus away from Cohen’s inimitable voice, which is lush, deadpan, warm and poetic, with a hint of frailty adding to the sense of a final statement.

Opener Happens to the Heart reflects on his career with trademark humility: “I was always working steady, I never called it art. I got my shit together, meeting Christ and reading Marx.” Other songs consider human flaws, some of which were exposed in the recent documentary Marianne and Leonard. He considers his restlessness in relationships – “We played a stunning couple but I never liked the part” – and rues “what I’ve left undone”.

Puppets powerfully contends with the world he is leaving, comparing fascism (“German puppets burned the Jews”) and recent foreign policy (“Puppet presidents command puppet troops to burn the land”). Like those of Marvin Gaye and Prince, Cohen’s oeuvre sought to reconcile the spiritual and the sensual, which both feature heavily again. Any initial chuckles at the fading octogenarian deadpanning about nipples that “rose like bread” disappear as it becomes apparent that he is reliving a distant encounter with startling, undimmed passion: “I’ve forgotten half my life. I still remember this.”

As the pace slows to a transcendent crawl and backing vocals form a heavenly choir, The Hills mocks his ageing body (“The system is shot / I’m living on pills”) and the stunning The Goal finds him “almost alive” and “settling accounts of the soul”. The last poem he recorded, Listen to the Hummingbird, implores us to find beauty in God and butterflies: “Don’t listen to me.” And, finally, there is a vast, empty silence, and he is gone.