It’s not hard to read heavy themes of mortality and letting go into Leonard Cohen’s final album, You Want It Darker, released just weeks before his death. But according to his friend and producer Patrick Leonard, a music-industry veteran with a long list of A-list collaborators (Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bryan Ferry, Fleetwood Mac), the legendary songwriter’s creative pilot light was nowhere near extinguished when he passed on Nov. 7 at the age of 82.
“We were in the middle of a bunch of stuff,” Leonard tells EW. “We were going to try to make an R&B record—for real. There’s four, five, six songs that are sitting there, and they’re good.” (And by R&B, he clarifies, he means more “old-school Otis,” not R. Kelly — “just those sorts of simple grooves and great bass lines.”)
“We were all over a few things that were too damn cool,” Leonard says. “We also had this string record going, which was inspired by the ‘Treaty’ reprise [on Darker] and there are 10 arrangements, many of them recorded already: ‘Anthem,’ ‘Suzanne,’ ‘Bird on a Wire,’ ‘Sisters of Mercy’ — I don’t have the full list with me but there’s six more. They’re done just like ‘Treaty’ and they’re beautiful. So that may find its way out just because I loved it and he loved it — this thing of trying to discover the essence and the center of those old records and those lyrics without actually having the lyrics in it at all. It’s an interesting exercise, right? That’s part of the craft I think of doing these arrangements, that you give people the space to find their way into it. That it doesn’t ever push you away from it, it pulls you in.”
As far as how and when any posthumous recordings may be released, he isn’t sure, he says, “whether [Cohen] left any provisions for what will happen now. He and I had talked about the string record, and he said, ‘I might not see it finished, but I’d like it to be finished no matter what.’ The R&B stuff, there’s very little of that that has him on it [vocally], and that’s something that couldn’t exist without him. But we had many songs started and some of them finished, very near completion but not recorded. I don’t know what will happen,” Leonard said, his voice breaking. “The suddenness of his passing precludes that.”