“You Want It Darker” by Leonard Cohen

The late Leonard Cohen’s signature song is a 1984 piece entitled “Hallelujah“. The title of said outing is of course a word with a very-heavy religious connotation. However, as used therein, it primarily points to romance and things of the such.

And this song we’re dealing with today, “You Want It Darker”, may also be considered sacrilegious by people, even though, all things considered, it is not necessarily so. And there are two general presumptions behind its song. One is that Leonard Cohen is for the most part addressing God. And secondly, as an octogenarian, he is doing so under the realization that his time of passing is near. Or phrased more succinctly, the vocalist is relaying his personal analysis of being on Earth to God. 

Is God really Good?

And where the sacrilegious aspect comes in is that, let’s say reminiscent to “Hallelujah”, Leonard is not speaking to God in any type of a revered manner. Indeed it may be deemed by some that he is mocking the Most High. Or more specifically we could say he is questioning whether or not God is actually good.

Based on the above paragraph, you probably already have a sound idea of the general direction this song goes in. This is one of those types of pieces where, most simply put, the vocalist is using the reality of human suffering to question God’s actual intents. In other words, it isn’t as if Cohen is an atheist or anything like that. In fact he’s even on record as saying that he’s “very fond of Jesus Christ”.

But as this song progresses, the thesis sentiment evolves as one in which the singer is apparently under the impression that many people believe in God in vain. Or let’s say that under his estimation, the way we generally understand God is not as He truly is. Or let’s rather put forth, going back to the person of Jesus Christ (who actually seems to be referenced in the second verse), our understanding of God is as a being who is compassionate, loving, etc. 

However, within the lyrics, various instances are pointed out, metaphorically in many cases, of suffering being a permeating theme in human history, even for the vocalist himself who is currently “broken and lame”. 

So the underlying premise is that God, being all-powerful, can stop said suffering any time. However, God doesn’t (as implied by the title). Owing to this, the logical conclusion, in the eyes of the vocalist, is that He actually prefers things “darker”. Put simply, God “loves” things more macabre.

In Conclusion

Conclusively, “You Want It Darker” is the type of deep, introspective song you would expect from an accomplished author like Leonard Cohen, in his age, when dealing with such a weighty topic as existentialism. 

And if we were to dig into every single line of the track individually, this analysis may go on for days. But as far as what is generally being presented is a case of a wise man on the brink of death finding it difficult to understand why God allows certain evils to exist and persist. And as implied in the first verse and chorus, said inquiry is in the very least in part inspired by the vocalist recognizing that he has to reckon with God personally sooner rather than later.

"You Want It Darker" Lyrics

Release of “You Want It Darker”

“You Want It Darker” is the title track from the Leonard Cohen album that Columbia Records put out on 21 September 2016. This date in question was actually Leonard’s 82nd (and final) birthday. 

At the time Cohen (1934-2016) was a tenured musician whose writing career, initially as a poet, dates all the way back to the 1950s. 

You Want It Darker (2016) was the last album Cohen put out before passing away at the age of 82. Indeed the last few years of his life were also amongst his most prolific musically. He also released an album in 2012 (Old Ideas) and another in 2014 (Popular Problems). 

To note, all three of the aforementioned projects topped the Canadian Albums Chart. They also scored within the top five of the UK Albums Chart. For example, You Want It Darker even went as far as being a UK number one.

“You Want It Darker” served as the lead single from the album. And even though its chart success wasn’t overly impressive, the song was critically acclaimed. It managed to take home a Grammy in 2018. It won in the category of Best Rock Performance.


Cohen wrote this song, in conjunction with Patrick Leonard, a behind-the-scenes’ musician who is better known as a regular Madonna collaborator. The producer of the track is Adam Cohen, i.e. the son of Leonard Cohen.

Leonard is held down on this song by the Congregation Shaar Hashomayim. This is a Jewish group from Quebec.

The phrase “hineni”, as used in the chorus, is a Hebrew term taken from the Old Testament. And what it translates to is “here I am”.

You Want It Darker

3 Responses

  1. Jim D. says:

    Amanda, I see there are no comments posted so I wanted to post one to complement you on your explanation and analysis of the meaning of these lyrics. I almost completely agree. We’ll done. Thank you.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree with Jim D. This seems a great interpretation of the lyrics for “You Want it Darker.” It’s used brilliantly (along with other music) in the dark and disturbing “Peaky Blinders.” Thanks for your analysis.

  3. Gordon says:

    “I didn’t know I had permission/to murder and to mame.” Line from the song; You Want It Darker. This line simply shocks me. I have listened to the album again and again. A masterpiece, really. But this line! Is it irony? Bitterness? Of course both but what a line to toss to you listeners.

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