Watch 4 Music Videos for Songs from Leonard Cohen’s Final Album, Thanks for the Dance

By Josh Jones

Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker is a bleak masterpiece. Released just 19 days before his death, the album sounds like a warning from beyond, one Cohen seemed to know we’d never heed. His sympathy for human failure reached its denouement in the posthumous Thanks for the Dance, a project “much less apocalyptic” in tone than its predecessor, writes Thomas Hobbs at NME. Unlike many a posthumous album, “this point of difference more than justifies the record’s release,” even if the material can “sound a little scrappy” at times.

The posthumous album’s existence is also justified by the fact that Cohen wanted it released. He turned that responsibility over to his son, Adam, who also produced You Want It Darker and who recruited Beck, Feist, Bryce Dessner of the National, Damien Rice, Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire, and “long-time Cohen collaborators Javier Mas and Jennifer Warner” to finish Thanks for the Dance.

Many of the songs began as strained vocal readings Adam recorded, then later crafted arrangements around, as he tells NPR.

I begged him, often “Just record this lyric. Let me sketch something and based on your reaction, we’ll adapt.” I was very, very lucky to get him to have these readings. Sometimes they were readings with no metronomic signatures, it was just a reading of poetry. Unfortunately, on a few occasions, that’s all I was left with — just bare musical sketches. But they were also so laden with instruction.

Cohen was a literary perfectionist. “He’s sort of the opposite of Dylan, who had this from the hip [songwriting process],” says his son. “My father was much more methodical, he had a chisel… there were big, big pieces at which he’d been at work for years.” That Cohen would leave work behind for others to finish, however, is fully in keeping with his biggest themes: nothing is ever perfect.

In my opinion, there’s something about the thesis of this man’s work, which is about brokenness. One of the main points of interest was this idea of “the broken hallelujah,” or “the crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” I think I’m not transgressing by saying one of the positions of what “Happens to the Heart” is bleak, that it breaks. But it’s how one sees one’s own heart breaking: if you see it as everyone’s heart breaking, it recontextualizes it. 

“Happens to the Heart” is also the first posthumous film in a “new series of artistic responses to Leonard Cohen’s posthumous album,” curated by Nowness who “invited a global roster of filmmakers and artists to present visual interpretations of Leonard Cohen’s life and lyrics.”

Four of those short films are available on YouTube, and you can watch them here. In addition to “Happens to the Heart,” they include “Moving On,” “Thanks for the Dance,” and “The Hills.” They do not include “The Goal,” but you can stream three different versions on the Nowness site. One of these uses “footage from NOWNESS’s extensive film archive” in a “visual elaboration on the album’s sixth track,” the site notes, “which evolved from a 1998 Cohen poem of the same name” — a quintessential Cohen lyric filled with wry, morbid humor and compassion for universal human suffering.

I can’t leave my house
Or answer the phone
I’m going down again
But I’m not alone

Settling at last
Accounts of the soul
This for the trash
That paid in full

As for the fall, it began long ago
Can’t stop the rain
Can’t stop the snow

I sit in my chair
I look at the street
The neighbor returns
My smile of defeat

I move with the leaves
I shine with the chrome
I’m almost alive
I’m almost at home

No one to follow
And nothing to teach
Except that the goal
Falls short of the reach

Related Content: 

Leonard Cohen’s Last Work, The Flame Gets Published: Discover His Final Poems, Drawings, Lyrics & More

How Leonard Cohen & David Bowie Faced Death Through Their Art: A Look at Their Final Albums

New Animation Brings to Life a Lost 1974 Interview with Leonard Cohen, and Cohen Reading His Poem “Two Slept Together”

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness