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Antony and the Johnsons Cut the World Review

Live. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Dazzling new arrangements decorate this artfully compiled live set.

Paul Whitelaw 2012

It's difficult to avoid using religious imagery when dealing with Antony Hegarty. His songs are like hymns, declamatory and tender, affirmative and desolate. The antithesis of background music, they demand to be listened to in rapt, holy communion between artist and audience.

When Antony sings he achieves a sense of rapture, lost in his incantatory melodies and lyrics, each performance a majestic, heart-on-sleeve psychodrama. That astonishing voice, a tremulous sob truly transgender in timbre, glides effortlessly from full-chested croon to gossamer falsetto, tearing at the heart of every song. He's an authentic soul singer, an angel in tatters.

And he's rarely sounded so transcendent than on this exquisitely beautiful album recorded live in Copenhagen with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra. The previously unreleased title track aside, it's essentially an artfully compiled greatest hits set. And while this isn't the first time that Antony has worked with an orchestra, most of the songs appear here in dazzling new arrangements.

It also works as a summation of his recurring themes of escape from this ravaged world, this mortal body, to achieve a higher, purer level of feminine being. It's frustrating, then, that the album's only misstep is a long, rehearsed monologue in which he articulates his desire for the world to shift from patriarchal to matriarchal systems of governance. Although his lecture hits some thoughtful points, his casually self-important delivery and irritating rising inflections make it a chore to sit through. Great singer, dire orator.

Fortunately, the remainder of the album is a powerful, intimate, sumptuous delight in which the orchestra enhances the innate grandeur of Antony's music. His lyrics may betray a sense of offbeat irony, but there's nothing kitsch about these symphonic readings of his ecstatic piano ballads. This is deep soul music in excelsis: abandoned, heartfelt, utterly sincere. It sounds like a forgotten Hollywood musical written by a depressed romantic; a Disney Morrissey swathed in torch song and spotlight.

But ultimately it sounds like Antony and no-one else. The divine giant strikes again.

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