Antony & The Johnsons - Cut The World
As both a vocalist and songwriter, Antony Hegarty has built a hopelessly loyal fanbase on a foundation of earnestness and individuality. His effeminate, countertenor vocals remain unmistakable, while lyrical exploration of morose domestic torment, nature and social acceptance do much to separate him from the crowd. Following the wrongly muted response to 2010’s Swanlights, Hegarty has opted for a curious collection of live re-recordings featuring the Denmark National Chamber Orchestra. The result is a triumphant retrospective through some of Hegarty’s most cathartic work, further demonstrating his vocal control over the richest of arrangements.
Not overly dissimilar to Kate Bush’s 2011 re-arrange, re-package job Director’s Cut, Hegarty has filtered songs largely from his 1998 self titled album and 2009’s ever so slightly disappointing The Crying Light. While the decision to omit all but one track from his Mercury Prize winning masterpiece I Am a Bird Now may initially seem a little contrary, it soon becomes apparent otherwise. Where tracks such as ‘Another World’ and ‘Epilepsy is Dancing’ trailed somewhat passively in their original studio form, here they soar with an emotional contour only emphasised by the strength of the orchestra. ‘Kiss My Name’ is most notable in its reworking, dropping the fluid string progression of old in favour of tribal drumming and grandiose violins.
Not everything here is familiar, with the opening title track being the album's one previously unheard composition. It’s a poignant opening that likely wouldn’t sit out of place on his studio work but doesn’t quite strike as hard as the rest of the album. The opener is curiously followed up by a spoken word track, ‘Future Feminism’. Here Hegarty muses for seven minutes on the female existence, opening potently with the question “I’ve been thinking all day about the moon. Like is it an accident that women menstruate once a month and the moon comes once a month? Are other animals synchronised in this way with the moon?” It makes for a fascinating initial listen but repeated plays suffer.
Track listing issues aside, Cut the World is a majestic home run further building upon an already highly accomplished discography. The force offered by the Chamber Orchestra never feels unnecessary nor does it swamp Hegarty’s vocals, rather demonstrating a perfect amalgamation of vocal and technical skill. This is not a replacement piece but rather a boastful, loud sibling, existing perfectly parallel with its older, wiser self. Open your mind and it will do more than justify its call for attention.