Music Reviews
Thanks for the Dance

Leonard Cohen Thanks for the Dance

(Columbia Records) Rating - 7/10

It’s always unnerving when a posthumous album is announced from an artist you love. There’s something disrespectful about tearing through an artist’s unpublished works to produce a slick product, a facsimile of their style based upon their previous work. These albums are usually pulled together by a gang of producers with monetary intent, but Leonard Cohen’s Thanks for the Dance was a project made more by love than money. Adam Cohen, Leonard’s son, produced the album based off of sketches, poems, and recordings that Cohen left right up to his death in 2016. The production is rich and textured, and while the substance isn’t quite as strong as You Want It Darker or Old Ideas, it's comforting to return to Cohen’s weary and raw world one more time.

Leonard Cohen passed a handful of days after the release of You Want It Darker, his best album since I’m Your Man, part of a superb trilogy of albums at the very end of his career. These albums consistently proved that Cohen was just getting restarted. But they also felt like Cohen recollecting his life, even if he still had a spring in his step. Thanks for the Dance feels like an epilogue to these albums, particularly the focus on morality found on 2016’s You Want It Darker. As Cohen sings on The Goal, he’s settling “accounts of the soul.” The problem is that it felt like it closed Cohen’s songbook for good. It was a nearly perfect piece of work, so it’s hard to get very excited about some semi-finished doodles.

Still, there’s plenty good to be found on Thanks for the Dance. Cohen sounds even more intimate than before, with spare acoustic guitar, Jew’s harp, and piano backing him. The production sounds akin to the cleanest moments on Various Positions or the warmth of Old Ideas. The opening track, Happens to the Heart, has tense nylon guitars, downtrodden lyrics, and a haunting ending. It’s one of the most fleshed-out songs on an album of fragments, but even some of those fragments have beauty. Take the aforementioned The Goal, which seems like poetry read over flickers of pianos, strings, and guitars. At a minute and twelve seconds, the record’s lead single could feel slight, but there’s real dramatic weight in the tight buildup.

It’s still hard to truly get Leonard Cohen right, and Thanks for the Dance sadly sounds like an easy approximation of his sound. While his rustling baritone always sounds nice against a nylon guitar, doesn’t it seem a little too effortless? There’s nothing challenging about the music here, and with every slight piano part that appears, or brushed snare drum that taps in the background, you yearn for the soulful electric guitars of You Want It Darker’s On the Level or the squawking klezmer influence on Old IdeasAmen. The closest we get is the orchestrated The Hills, which has a smokey brass backing and jazzy drumming, or the loving waltz of the title track. These short joys remind us of what we love about Leonard Cohen, and while it isn’t perfect, it’s just wonderful to hear him for a little longer.