REVIEW: Leonard Cohen’s “Thanks for the Dance” is Must-Have


Just over three years have passed since Leonard Cohen passed away, but now through the thoughtful and nuanced production of his son, Adam Cohen, along with assistance from Michael Chaves (engineering/mixing) and a collection of talented players, a new collection of songs emerges – Thanks for the Dance. Like much of Cohen’s work Thanks for the Dance dwells on themes of human pain and the struggle toward transcendence in the midst of life’s mundanity. Cohen’s voice carries the weight of time in every graveled turn; its authority and wisdom growing from its near brokenness. Accompaniment throughout maintains a strict adherence to sparse and traditionally Cohen arrangement at once orchestral and simply performed. The result is “a Leonard Cohen” album that builds upon and respects not only his lyrical prowess, but his musicality as well. There’s a lived-in-ness and authenticity to this collection of songs that lesser artists never achieve in their prime, much less when the end of life is so knowingly near.

Singer-songwriter, poet, monk, father, lover – Leonard Cohen wore many hats in a life of extreme highs and lows that produced a vast catalogue of powerfully emotive work dedicated to diving deeper into the dark corners of the human soul than most care to tread. Thanks for the Dance is no different. The record opens with “Happens to the Heart” where he states, “it was nothing it was business, but it left an ugly mark, I’ve come here to revisit what happens to the heart.” Those first lines set the stage for the collection to follow, as does the arrangement which falls somewhere between melancholy and reservation. “Now the angels got a fiddle, the devil’s got a harp, every soul is like minnow, every mind is like a shark, may have broken every window, but the house is dark, I care very little, what happens to the heart,” Cohen’s vexed voice continues over plucked acoustic guitar, piano, and strings. Accompaniment is adeptly handled throughout by a revolving cast of Cohen’s past collaborators as well as a crew of younger musical admirers, including Javier Mas (Spanish laud player), Damien Rice (vocals), Leslie Feist (vocals), Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire (bass), Bryce Dessner of The National (guitar), composer Dustin O’Halloran (piano), Cantus Domus choir (vocals), s t a r g a z e orchestra (conducted by André Deritter: Maaike van der Linde – flute, Marlies van Gangelen – Oboe, Georg Paltz – Clarinet, Romain Bly – Trumpet, Kobi Arditi – Trombone), the Shaar Hashomayim choir, Jennifer Warnes (vocals), Zach Rae (felt piano), Larry Goldings (flute), Rob Humphreys (percussion), Alistair Sung (cello), Jacob Braun (cello), Caimin Gilmore (double bass), and Beck (guitar, Jew’s harp). Production duties were primarily handled by Adam Cohen, but Patrick Watson and Daniel Lanois assisted as well. Lanois also added piano. As the record progresses adherence to the essence of Cohen’s sound by a group of professional and unique players produces a finished product that fits neatly into Cohen’s already impressive body of work.

As the record continues with “Moving On” Cohen muses, “I loved your face, I loved your hair; your T-shirts and your eveningwear; as for the world, the job, the war; I ditched them all to love you more” over plush Spanish guitar before asking, “who’s moving on, who’s kidding who.” “The Night of Santiago” follows with a tale of lust embraced in the days of youth. “Her thighs they slipped away from me, like schools of startled fish, though I’ve forgotten half my life, I still remember this,” he admits. Hand claps and classical guitar define this rambler’s lament. “Thanks for the Dance”, the title track, finds Cohen reflecting on life, love, companionship and questions that still exists even at the end of a life well lived, “and there’s nothing to do, but to wonder if you, are as hopeless as me, and as decent.” He continues, “thanks for the dance, it was hell, it was swell, it was fun, thanks for all the dances, one two three, one two three one.” “The Hills” is a slow saunter down a city street longing to get out of the filth but resigned to the futileness of it all. Cohen sings, “I sailed like a swan, I sank like a rock, but time is long gone, past my laughingstock, and I can make the hills, the system is shot, I’m living on pills, for which I thank God.” On the album closer, “Listen to the Hummingbird”, Cohen encourages one to push beyond celebrity, fame, or concern with mundane vanity and artifice to commune with nature, the spiritual, and the eternal and lasting aspects of existence. “Listen to the mind of God which doesn’t need to be, listen to the mind of God, don’t listen to me, listen to the hummingbird whose wings you cannot see, listen to the hummingbird, don’t listen to me,” he challenges with a voice echoing with wisdom and the depth of authority.

Thanks for the Dance is a crowning achievement and loving tribute from son to father that showcases both Leonard Cohen’s songwriting strengths and Adam Cohen’s production abilities. By staying true to Leonard Cohen’s musicality, Thanks for the Dance adds a great record to an already exceptional legacy. Out November 22 via Columbia Legacy Recordings, Thanks for the Dance is a must have for any Cohen aficionado or budding acolyte.

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