It’s a beautiful testament to Leonard Cohen’s career and sheer talent that his music has continued to survive following his death in 2016. Cohen’s posthumous album Thanks For The Dance includes nine recordings, created during the same sessions which led to Cohen’s 2016 offering You Want It Darker. Following his father’s death, Adam Cohen collected these recordings and moulded them into individual tracks, with the help of various well-respected musicians such as Beck, Fiest, Damien Rice and Bryce Dessner. However, the younger Cohen has made it very clear that these aren’t merely discarded B-Sides. Thanks For The Dance is an album which stands alone as a representation of what Cohen fans will surely and sorely miss as the years go by.
The decision to release compilation albums of previous recordings by deceased artists has been popular in recent years. In 2011, the album Lioness: Hidden Treasures was released following Amy Winehouse’s death earlier that year, and a collection of early recordings by Jeff Buckley were released in You and I back in 2016. Each of these were met with some controversy, with many fans claiming that the decision to release private recordings lies with the artist. Yet, others have argued that these albums highlight what we have lost through the death of these artists, and what could have been if they had been able to have a longer career.
Leonard Cohen succeeded in a career that spanned over forty years, building an incredible reputation as an accomplished songwriter, performer, poet and novelist. Yet, as Thanks For The Dance proves, time is irrelevant when measured against Cohen’s ability and he had so much more to give prior to his death.
We are introduced to the album through Happens to the Heart, an intimate mixture of quiet guitar with injections of flamenco and Cohen’s statement spoken word vocals which give the lyrics a very strong poetic feel. Thanks For The Dance opens with the declaration “I was always working steady, but I never called it art” through Cohen’s smoky, rough vocals. This is something that fans of Cohen will understand – in several tracks the music takes a backseat in order for the words to take centre stage, showcasing Cohen’s immeasurable poetic talent. This style is present throughout Thanks For The Dance, meaning that the collection of songs remains true to the way Cohen presented his music and in no way betrays the career that he built.
The second track, Moving On, is a beautiful ode to a lover which repeats the line “I loved your face /I loved your hair/ Your T-Shirts/ And your evening wear”. Like the opening track there is a flamenco-inspired sound to the guitar work, which compliments the enigma and romance of the lyrics. This track features the strongest lyrical content of the album, with exquisite depictions of adoration and desire.
The Goal is a short, yet haunting track which appears to depict depression – a theme which crops up in a number of Cohen’s songs. The eerie piano and strumming of the guitar adds to the unsettling impact of this track, whilst the words describe the feeling of hopelessness that comes when one realises “the goal falls short of the reach”. We do not need to know what the goal is to understand what is happening in the track, since a great deal lies beneath the surface of what is being said.
The titular album track encapsulates the overarching sentiment of this work. Set to a hypnotic waltz beat, presumably depicting the dance which is referred to in the title, the lyrics are nostalgic and inherently sad. It’s difficult to listen to this track, and the album as a whole, without feeling some level of emotion at the thought that this is Cohen’s final farewell - and what a beautiful goodbye it is. You say “Thanks For The Dance” Leonard, we say thanks for the words and music which we will never forget.