Antony and the Johnsons – Cut The World (Secretly Canadian; 2012)
By Peter McLoughlin @PeterGownArts“Antony and the Johnsons most important work to date”
Antony Hegarty, the human being behind the band, is not afraid to make a statement. The inimitable English-American, transgender ‘witch’ has been making them for years. His first album, an eponymous release from 1998, had a song called “Hitler In My Heart”, and another song – a surging, striking song – called “Divine”, which detonates in its run-in with the explosive lines:
“And I”ll murder the ingrates
Who stand in our way!
And I”ll swallow shit, laughing
On my bed of hay!
And I hold your big fat heart in my hands
And I hold your burning heart in my hands
A flame on fire
Shining in the darkness
I mention these lyrics so extensively to stress a point. In his early years as an artist, Hegarty’s songs were mostly personal, introspective, and often darkly sexual in nature – shocking, I suppose, a lot of it, for much of the world that heard it. Up to and including the Mercury Prize winning record I Am A Bird Now, there were songs expressing a desire for physical abuse; professing love for a dead boy; songs of sexual, gender and spiritual transformation.
Nevertheless, since 2005, Hegarty has grown significantly as an artist, and his latest release, the live album Cut The World, despite containing but one new song, http://www.phpaide.com/?langue=en illustrates this well. He has moved away from singing primarily about his relationships with other individuals, instead singing about his relationship to earth as nature, and human beings as a species.
The second track on the record is entitled “Future Feminism”, and it is an 8 minute discourse by Hegarty on the core human structures on our planet: Monotheism and Patriarchy. And he is not a fan of either. The track is a wonderful example of a man no longer fearful or diffident. Hegarty comes across as a human being full of pride, and sadness, and most importantly, rational intelligence. Perhaps a little too mystical in nature at the beginning, “Future Feminism” is nonetheless a fascinating humanistic reflection.
The video for the title track, “Cut The World”, featuring Willem Dafoe, is a metaphorically simple, but visceral visualisation of what “Future Feminism” is all about – and it is also a softly stunning song.
The album as a whole is beautiful. Hegarty’s voice is as tender and elegant as ever, and the musical accompaniment by The Danish National Chamber Orchestra is sublime. If there is one criticism, it is that Hegarty never really lets lose in these recordings. The normally epic “Cripple and Starfish” in particular is detrimentally subdued.
But the orchestrated score by and large improve upon the originals – “Epilepsy is Dancing” is vastly improved from the recording on The Crying Light and “Another World” drips with a majestically reinforced melancholy.
If you are a long-term fan, there is little new here – but you will be largely pleased by the confident expansions of Antony and the Johnsons in both thought and sound. If you are uninitiated yet curious, especially if you’re a fan of classical or operatic music, you’ll take to this in no time at all.
Despite the lack of original material, this is Antony and the Johnsons’ most important release to date.