Antony and the Johnsons, Cut the World

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 08.07.12 in Reviews

As a live album, Cut the World, is, like most things by or about Antony and the Johnsons, quite singular. It leads with a studio recording of Antony Hegarty’s delicately elliptical yet piercing new song, this album’s title track, from The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, a biography of the Serbian-American performance artist staged by experimental theatre pioneer Robert Wilson. The next cut is Hegarty’s speech, “Future Feminism,” in which he discusses his theory about the ways patriarchal religions postulate humanity’s destiny on another paradise beyond the one in which we live, how this belief contributes to the Earth’s demise, and how a feminist way of regarding our planet and our spirituality on it can help to rectify mankind’s ecological destruction. The rest is devoted to symphonic renditions of songs from his albums and EPs recorded last September in Copenhagen with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra. Applause is heard only during his speech and after the final track.

An exquisitely powerful live album

Unlike most musicians making strikingly contemporary art, Hegarty isn’t beholden to technology; his voice-and-piano-based, largely acoustic studio arrangements only occasionally draw on electronic effects. The orchestral renditions heard here open the music up with heightened dynamics that compliment the fragile nuances of his expression. “Cripple and the Starfish,” for example, is far more romantic than the 1998 album version, and the change heightens the contrast between the brutality described in the lyric and the gentleness with which the singer regards his abusive lover: This discrepancy is devastating, and the rest of the album is nearly as exquisitely powerful. Already one of his most succinct songs, “Another World” now floats in sustained symphonic chords that imply the vastness of the galaxy, the sincerity of Hegarty’s love for nature, and the intensity of his sorrow over the Earth’s continuing destruction. The result feels like weeping, and soaring, at once.