“Cut the World” – Antony and the Johnsons

5 stars (out of 5)

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Product DetailsI have a confession to make, I only own one Antony and the Johnsons album, “I Am A Bird Now”, and I’m sure that it’s the same one most people bought when he won the  Mercury Music Price in 2005. I’ve never really warmed to it; I admire it and acknowledge Antony’s talent but it’s been gathering dust next to Kate Bush’s “Arial” album (sorry Bush fanatics, I love her as much as you do but miss the pre 10 minute song cycle days).

My favourite Antony performance is probably his guest performance on Hercules and Love Affair’s   homage to late seventies, organic disco “Blind”. It was marvellous to hear that voice soar and be less reined in by more something more mainstream and accessible. For me there is a bagginess and heaviness in Antony’s work, musically and melodically, that I find tars everything with a very samey brush that leaves me feeling hung over. This album though, which reads like a greatest hits of tracks taken from Antony’s first 4 albums and mainly from his third album “The Crying Light”, succeeds in erasing that sonic fog.

Most of these songs here are transformed and oddly given it’s a live album (“Cut The World” being the only new studio track, quite brilliant with a genuinely shocking video) everything is more concentrated, bright and tight and beautiful; in this context Antony, accompanied by the faultless Danish National Chamber Orchestra, and his songs translate so clearly. “Another World” is a perfect example of a good song that was somewhat lost on “The Crying Light” album but  here it is reinvigorated and  undercut by an amazing tension provided by a note established by the orchestra within the new, 1 minute introduction and which is held until the 3 minute plus mark before it subtly changes key. I couldn’t figure out what exactly they had done to change the mood as it’s such a tiny adjustment but works marvellously at making a song about the world coming to an end appropriately unsettling.

Cripple and the Starfish” has always been an amazing song that sounds as though it were written for a David Lynch musical (‘I am very happy so please hit me’) and in its original setting was just strings and piano which it is here also but magnified by a hundred so that it’s become completely magical and otherworldly and is maybe the most beautiful performance from Antony on an album of many. Aside from the fact they are the shortest tracks, “Epilepsy is Dancing” and “Another World” in particular become concise, opaque and delightfully melodic lullabies that highlight Antony’s solid song writing skills and incredible booming and by turns soothing vocals. “I Fell I Love with a Dead Boy” now stabs your heart with a James Bond introduction with Antony asking ‘are you a boy or a girl? over and over and the relevance isn’t missed. It has a new danger and will break your heart in a way that the original doesn’t.

I still don’t like the morose when it should be uplifting “You Are My Sister”, surprisingly the only song from “I Am A Bird Now”, and the spoken monologue “Future Feminism” is lovely and captures the ethos of Antony and his vision but doesn’t need to be heard more than once or twice (I would have loved one more track, maybe one his brilliant cover versions of either Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love” or Julee Cruise’s “Mysteries of Love”?) but apart from that this an incredible representation of Antony’s work to date and for me at least, as someone who has always struggled with this art up until now, a revelation.