Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker” (Columbia)
Cohen is 82 and apparently not in the best of health. David Remnick’s recent profile in the New Yorker of the song-poet with the sepulchral voice includes numerous Bob Dylan quotes but mentions no specific ailments. However, Cohen is not up for leaving the house. “You Want It Darker,” produced by his son Adam, his third album in four years, does little to dispute the notion that Cohen is standing at death’s door.
That confrontation with mortality begins with the title track, in which he looks death square in the eye and talk-sings, “Hey baby, hey baby / I’m ready, my lord.” And it continues throughout: “I’m leaving the table, I’m out of the game,” he sings on “Leaving the Table,” one of several songs informed by a lifelong love of country music. “I don’t need a lover, so blow out the flame.”
There is one unspoken argument made throughout “You Want It Darker,” however, to encourage fans that the maker of “Hallelujah” and “Chelsea Hotel” isn’t quite ready to check out. And that is simply that it’s hard to believe an artist completely prepared to depart would be capable of making music that is this vital and, in its own stubborn way, full of life.
Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer
The Pretenders, “Alone” (BMG)
The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde may not be all over the radio like she was in the ‘80s, and her albums may not sell more than the minimum amount necessary to keep her ticket sales afloat, but she has that rare ability to make any song rock. The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who produces the band’s first album since 2008, has added vintage rockabilly and soul touches to her formula, but the centerpiece remains Hynde’s deep and mysterious voice and a stomping spirit that opens with a cymbal crash on the welcome introvert’s anthem “Alone Song” and peaks with a heartfelt “woo-whee!” in “Gotta Wait.”
Hynde can make do with any backup band, but the rock ’n’ roll competence of Nashville studio hands such as guitarist Kenny Vaughan and drummer Richard Swift boosts her confidence. (Not to mention ’60s rockabilly guitar hero Duane Eddy, who provides a twisty solo in “Never Be Together.”)
“Roadie Man,” a love song, showcases Hynde’s underrated vocal phrasing and emotional range. Sometimes Auerbach overplays his style, especially in the lengthy, fuzzy intro to “Holy Commotion,” but Hynde is a pro, slipping easily into the song’s groove. With luck, she isn’t talking about herself on “I Hate Myself” (“and I know that you do too”) and more albums like this are on the way.
STEVE KNOPPER, Newsday
• Tove Lo, “Lady Wood”
• Kenny Chesney, “Cosmic Hallelujah”
• Helmet, “Dead to the World”