Antony & The Johnsons - Cut The World

A piece of performance art steeped in the beauty and resonance of Antony Hegarty’s best work.

Label: Rough Trade

Rating: 8

Since he first started to perform with Antony & The Johnsons in New York in 1997, Antony Hegarty has long stood far removed from mainstream musical trends and sounds. It is therefore slightly surprising that the latest Antony & The Johnsons album is that perennial mainstream rock favourite, the live LP. ‘Cut The World’ is far from your usual live album however, instead it is a piece of performance art steeped in the beauty and resonance of Antony Hegarty’s best work.

The album was recorded in 2011 in Copenhagen and is a collaboration with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra. ‘Cut The World’ is a career spanning retrospective that includes material from all four Antony & The Johnsons studio albums with arrangements conducted by Nico Muhly, Rob Moose, Maxim Moston and Antony himself. It is a live album on an incredibly grand scale.

Despite being a live album, the first title track is a studio recording; the only one to feature here. The theme of much of Antony’s recent work has been his exploration of the place of femininity in the world and his desire for a matriarchal system of governance to replace the traditional patriarchal system. These spiritual and political themes are explored throughout his work, on ‘Cut The World’ Antony explains that, “For so long I have obeyed the feminine decree.” The sound is in keeping with the opulent orchestral feel of the live recordings and is coloured by jazzy brass and woodwind with Antony’s quavering voice as mesmeric as ever.

Antony’s beliefs about the power of feminism as a force for good are espoused even more on the next track ‘Future Feminism’. This seven-minute speech given by Antony about his beliefs displays passion, knowledge, insight and heartfelt emotion. It is an example of his singular questing desire as an artist to challenge that he can include this monologue as part of a record and it serves very well to help illuminate the ideas behind this most interesting of characters.

The rest of the live cuts flit between symphonic grandeur, full of drama and portent as on a stirring ‘Swanlights’ and a gentle, stark brevity. The lilting, playful rendition of ‘Epilepsy Is Dancing’ is joyfully uplifting while a rendition of ‘The Rapture’ from 1998’s debut album is impossibly beautiful. The majesty of the voice floating above the swelling of sound.

The orchestral backing allows Antony’s voice to flourish. There are few more recognisable and awe-inspiring voices in contemporary popular music than Antony Hegarty’s and throughout the album his voice shines. It is a more nuanced and powerful voice developed over years of performance and is a formidable instrument in its own right easily comparing with the splendour of the orchestra.

‘Cut The World’ acts as a postscript on the first act of Antony & The Johnsons career. An album of stirring highs and deeply intimate confessions takes the traditional live album to a new level.