I was sure Antony and the Johnsons' four studio albums had wrenched out all of frontman Antony Hegarty's loneliness, masochism and tearful determination. Cut the World, a live album recorded in Copenhagen with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra, made me think again.
The strings don't pile onto "Swanlights" or "Another World." They seep in through Antony's piano lines, building subtle tension instead of orchestral mass. You'll occasionally catch a single violin note that sounds just a little off. Yet the most touching moment isn't the most somber: The orchestra gambols through a version of "Kiss My Name" that's rowdier than the one on 2009's The Crying Light.
Despite the opulent setup, Hegarty dresses down his singing ever so slightly. He performs "Epilepsy Is Dancing" without harmony vocals and garners some laughs with a seven-minute talk on patriarchy, reincarnation and ecology ("Future Feminism"). Fans expecting a mere souvenir - and newcomers expecting a casual introduction - will be surprised. A document of a fiercely stirring songwriter, this album stands on its own.