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Examining Music: Leonard Cohen's You Want It Darker?

uImage of David by John Barrett, Text & Design by David Clark Allen

Leonard Cohen's raspy, basso profundo provides the pivotal audio 'hook' in You Want It Darker - a bleak, lyrically sardonic song from his masterful final album.

An intimate, laconic vocal delivery (very close mic'd/whispered as much as sung) coupled with sharply observed lyrics - a conversation with the Almighty - brings a welcome ironic quality to what could have been a depressing experience - thus, rather than leaving the listener feeling castigated . . . it's cathartic.

The production is sparse by current standards. A traditional synagogue choir (providing a soft-focus, dreamlike vocal 'wash' of harmonic dissonance/consonance) combined with an insistent, repetitive double-time bass line underpinned by a sampled, looped drumbeat sets the mood of 'inevitability' that permeates the song. Simple 'soul style' riffing on Hammond organ adds a touch of Christian gospel flavour - while a male cantor, introduced near the end of the track - lifts the energy to yet another level with a passionately mournful 'call to prayer'.

Space, used intelligently throughout the arrangement as an empty canvas for change and emphasis, helps reinforce the 'prophet, wandering in the desert' biblical quality of Leonard's essentially bleak rumination on the fallibility of human nature.

The muted 'spiritual timbre' is further enhanced by a gentle attenuation of higher frequencies above 800Hz and the utilisation of a predominantly mid-range/bass sonic palette.

Essentially a blues/folk 3 chord structure, You Want It Darker is an accomplished combination of acoustic recording technique, production ideas, performance and composition - a masterful example of the strength of good content.

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