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  • Writer's pictureAlex Sun

Review of Thanks for the Dance by Leonard Cohen

No one to follow / And nothing to teach/ Except that the goal / Falls short of the reach”. Despite his tragic departure from us by the Grim Reaper, the poetically endowed singer left us something to ponder deeply from the other side.

Thanks for the Dance is the fifteenth and the final studio album by Leonard Cohen, released posthumously on November 22, 2019. As the previous 2016 album You Want It Darker sounded so heavy with a sense of farewell and finality, it’s enticing to learn what remains to be said on Thanks for the Dance, a collection of Cohen’s heritages, his bare-bone ideas, vocals, and poems, gathered and finished by his son, Adam Cohen. Recording of this 9-pieces album includes contributions from various musicians, such as Javier Mas, Daniel Lanois, Beck, and Jennifer Warnes. Like his previous releases, Thanks for the Dance is country and rock in core, featuring Cohen’s enchanting “poem recitation” with delicately designed orchestration and arrangement. His lifelong pursuit to untie the intricate knot of sex, love, and spirituality is again reflected in the poetic lyrics of this album, except this time death also comes into the dance.

Adam did an excellent job building a pyramid around Cohen’s golden voice. The album has a slow tempo overall, and it’s tender and soft, like an old man telling his lifetime stories in an armchair. Songs are simple and straightforward in melody but rich in orchestration and instrumentation bringing you deeper and deeper into the music. The perfect invocation of the union of feminine harmony and Cohen’s low baritone hits a nerve, not only offering pleasing listening experience to the ears but also adding “comments” to Cohen’s poems from a female perspective. The instruments seem to be symbolized and endowed with different meanings and characteristics by the raconteur. The piano offers a pessimistic view towards the evanescence of time and complications in the secular world, telling heartbreaking stories with glass-tinkling voices or expressing gloomy resignation to the many unattended affairs with deep and low sounds. Mas’ exquisite guitar streak through the album, on the other hand, adds a certain strain of lightness, cheekiness, and relaxation to the music. The Spanish guitarist does a splendid job, playing it so gently as if the guitar is telling love and sex, the major attachment of Cohen to the earthly world, in an erotic way.

The refreshing The Night of Santiago is a stunning piece and an “outlier” in this album considering its overall tone. The song writes about a memory adapted from a poem of Federico García Lorca, depicting sex and love in a voluptuous language in the beginning and the man’s nostalgia despite of its complexness near the end. The unexpected Flamenco twist in the song captures a kind of whimsy and offers a glimpse of Cohen’s view towards love. “Though I’ve forgotten half my life / I still remember this”, “Except for this, my lips are sealed forever / And for now”, the lyrics give us a sense of what Cohen thinks about and recalls in his dying years.

German puppets burned the Jews / Jewish puppets did not choose.” This is a ferociously bold way to start a song. Puppet is undoubtedly the most startling piece of the album. The song starts with the Holocaust and progresses into a reflection on human nature. “Puppet flower, Puppet stem / Puppet time dismantles them / Puppet me and puppet you”. The feeling of helplessness against the inescapable cycles is throughout the lyrics, and the fate of all seems to be manipulated by an invisible hand, just as the name Puppet suggests. However, the angelic femine harmony, chiming bells, and Cohen’s neutral tone in the music reflects a detached view coming from a storyteller, or just a man resigned to the determined fate.

Adam did a fantastic job in completing this unfinished album, making it inseparable from Cohen’s previous albums produced and supervised by himself. Just like he said himself in the interview, “I didn’t make choices that were a reflection of my taste”, “Others don’t know what he(Cohen) hates.” All the lyrics were written by Cohen before his death. He once again shows us that words can carry immeasurable strength through his poetic lyrics.

When all of these, the vocals, melody, instrumentation, and lyrics, click with a kind of harmony, the album becomes more than just a graceful postscript. Just like the symbol of Pisces, two fishes tied together by a rope: one swims upstream and one floats downstream. This poetic contrariety is also observed and featured in Cohen’s last album, capturing the themes of his entire life. Cohen sings about his god all the way and wants to walk from the secular world with a relief, saying farewell to all the earthly; on the other hand, he’s so deeply attached to love that he keeps thinking about his women even in his time of death. Thus, Cohen goes boldly to seek a “Great Perhaps”, leaving us with millions to ponder.


[1] Thanks for the Dance in Sportify:

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