Album: Antony and the Johnsons, Cut the World (Rough Trade)


The notion of transformation has always been fundamental to the work of Antony Hegarty, often in trans-gender and even trans-species terms. He's the ugly duckling that turned into the magnificent swan – and on Cut the World, that swan gets to drift all the more elegantly across a lake of full-scale orchestral arrangements, which themselves transform some of his earlier songs into more fabulous creations.

That's the theory, at least, and in several cases, the new arrangements by Nico Muhly, Rob Moose, Maxim Moston and Hegarty himself do lend greater depth and emotional heft – not least "I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy", where the short, stark melodrama of the opening verse is followed by a long silence, before a more dreamlike arrangement of piano and high woodwind and reeds, warmed with strings, extends the initial idea into more exotic territory. Likewise, the undulating, oceanic swells of "Cripple and the Starfish", with twinkly percussion and bright trumpet glinting on the surface, lend an apt persistence to the theme of endurance, once again expressed in transformative terms: "hurt me, I'll grow back like a starfish". 

But elsewhere, these grand new performances with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra serve to pinion some songs too fixedly, as if this were their ultimate definitive state, rather than just another stage in an ongoing process of becoming. The way the strings hang like a shroud over "Another World", for instance, gives an air of finality to a song that views death as more akin to an escape to another state. The positives outweigh the negatives, however, with "Epilepsy Is Dancing", "Rapture" and "The Crying Light" all reaching deeper than before. 

The only new song is the title track, where noble, burnished brass and wistful woodwind attend another martyr's hymn, albeit one including the distant prospect of retaliation: "I've always contained your desire to hurt me... but when will I turn and cut the world?". "Future Feminism", the other unreleased piece, is a spoken-word rumination on religion and femininity, the notion of a female Godhead, Antony believes, being another necessary transformation.