Perhaps for many of us, the opening introduction into Antony Hegarty’s passionate music was on the initial strands of life of “Hope There’s Someone.” Although he and his Johnsons had already developed a rich following with their self-titled effort, I Am A Bird Now flourished with emotionally-vested, brilliantly-composed forays into the human heart and all of the gripping ache around Antony’s voice. Listening to that pensive piano, the ominously discordant chords and the driving force behind the rush of sounds at the end still brings chills to any true music lover and with a strong ear for harmony and melody, Antony has been amazing for many years now.
Recorded live during two days in September 2011, in Copenhagen with The Danish National Chamber Orchestra, Cut the World is a collection of songs off Antony and the Johnsons’ four full-lengths. The breadth of beauty on these songs is absolutely amazing and Antony sounds entirely invigorated as he powers through each song with a definitive delicate touch only he seems to be able to master and convey. The string arrangements and percussive additions make for absolutely gorgeous moments and like all of the band’s proper albums, there is magnificent storytelling abound.
On the aforementioned I Am A Bird Now, Antony flashed muscular diversity with an impressive duet that featured Boy George singing with him on “You Are My Sister.” Along with Devendra Banhart’s guitar adding tender moments, Antony was the true star as he showcased a voice so powerfully adept and clinically skillful, there was little denying his tremendous gift. On Cut the World that version is rendered with clarinets and strings in the background as they highlight those trademark minor chords around Antony’s heavenly voice. Sounding much in his prime, and somewhat removed from the 2005 version, the addition of piano and woodwinds is a dynamite choice. Here it’s a solo version that Antony relishes in but fully-realized, he sounds master of his domain: a virtuoso that is still reaching higher and higher.
Further exploring Antony’s vision on religion, state and our dying environment, the spoken speech used on “Future Feminism” finds Antony inquiring about our moon’s ability and wondering what role females truly play. After the exceptional title track, this speech lasts nearly eight minutes and is a terrific addition to convey Antony’s intelligent mind to the album’s audience. Surely the crowd in Denmark was enlightened and joyously content to be in Antony’s presence and here, we’re allowed the same pleasure. Later, on “Kiss My Name,” the band employs the same rousing percussion as the original but with a heavier snare and a foreboding amount of flourishing strings. Antony allows the instruments to paint an illustrious picture around him before he enters and he sounds forcefully vivid as he declares his worth to the world. And ending with a refined version of “Twilight” (off the band’s nearly fifteen year-old debut album) Antony showcases a full grasp of darkly layered instruments as they sway in and out of the limelight. His voice quivers as they leave him and when the lush clarinet enters, his voice is still the one on full display: a remarkable gift.
And although an album of this ilk – live and rendering a collection from the past – would seem easy to dismiss, we’d be foolish to regard it as such. Like anything else he’s done in the past, Antony decorates everything with a craft that is amazingly structured. The compositions, the choice of songs, the sequencing, his spoken word – the entire package – is a firm reminder of the immense talent Antony is; Cut the World remains another worthy release to take hold of.