Leonard Cohen’s latest single, “Darkness”, sounds like his version of the road-weary old-timer moods Bob Dylan captured on 1997’s “Time Out of Mind”. What I mean is it’s a life-assessment song, or as T.S. Eliot wrote in his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” — this is Cohen’s way of “measuring his life out in coffee cups”.
In it he describes an ascetic’s lifestyle of trying to abstain from cigarettes, alcohol and women — and how he’s lost a taste for everything. It’s an organ-blues cut which will be included on his January 31st release, “Old Ideas”. The song is a beauty. A low-moan acoustic guitar, gracefully finger-picked, purrs through the opening before Cohen sings, “I caught the darkness / Drinking from your cup / I said is this contagious / You said just drink it up / I got no future / I know my days are few / And the present’s not that pleasant / Just a lot of things to do / And I thought the past would last me / But the darkness got that too.”
It’s seems about the right time for Cohen to take measure of his life and career, much like Dylan did with a song like “Not Dark Yet” and “Highlands”. Those are two stark tracks, with barely a light at the end of the tunnel — with lyrics like this opening verse in “Highlands”, about not wanting to even get up out of bed, “Windows were shakin’ all night in my dreams / Everything was exactly the way that it seems / Woke up this morning and I looked at the same old page / Same ol’ rat race / Life in the same ol’ cage.” Dylan does find room for the odd bit of humor amid the resignation, like the 2000 line from “Things Have Changed”: “Feel like falling in love with the first woman I meet / Putting her in a wheel barrow and wheeling her down the street.”
Cohen too finds a little light in the dark, wrapping “Darkness” in an upbeat rhythm, with a couple of winks and nods that fans have come to love in his songwriting. Where Dylan was more somber and accusatory of a world gone wrong, Cohen presents a more playful persona akin to Tom Waits — with a self-deprecatingly fun line like, “I used to love the rainbow …” Note: Lyrics are unofficial. –– David D. Robbins Jr.