Leonard Cohen: Live in London (Sony) 

If ever there was a balladeer perfect for the world's end, it's Leonard Cohen. His new two-disc set, recorded on July 17, 2008, at the O2 Arena with a nine-member band, sounds as beautifully apocalyptic as anything he's ever done, besting even his intimate synth-pop masterpiece, I'm Your Man.

While Cohen's stage banter feels warm and cozy, the songs betray the elegant despair that courses through the man's veins. The one-two opening salvo of "Dance Me to the End of Love" and "The Future" pack enough firepower in their lyrics alone to level a million metal bands, especially with sleek, deadly lines like: "Give me back my broken night / my mirrored room, my secret life / it's lonely here, there's no one left to torture."

Did the world catch up to Cohen's nightmares? Or did he simply predict what horrors were en route? Certain songs suggest prophetic vision, especially as Cohen observes from where and for what purpose so-called "Democracy" arrives in the United States: "It's coming from the sorrow in the street / the holy places where the races meet / from the homicidal bitchin' / that goes down in every kitchen / to determine who will serve and who will eat."

Although Cohen was financially forced to do this tour because of a crooked ex-manager, there's nothing here to indicate he takes anything less than pure pleasure from performing for a live audience at age 73. In Cohen's case, desperation benefits us all.

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