The tremendous success of 50 Shades of Grey notwithstanding, it is hard to write compellingly about BDSM—or more accurately, about the fraught relationship between love, pain, power, and sex. Many have tried (see: roughly three-fifths of internet fan fiction); few have succeeded (see: Mary Gaitskill, Bataille, The Crystals). Translating such experiences into art without resorting to creepy clichés requires a willingness to be figuratively (or physically) naked in front of strangers.
That vulnerability is one of Antony Hegarty’s gifts, and he displays it beautifully on Antony and the Johnsons’ new live album, whether he’s cooing, “Please hit me” over a tension-filled backdrop of quivering woodwinds and strings, or philosophizing about the moon and Sarah Palin on “Future Feminism,” an extended bit of inter-song banter.
Cut the World features 12 well-chosen tracks, performed with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra. The arrangements are exquisite, and relatively restrained, at least within the unabashedly schmaltzy Antony universe—even at their sturm-und-drangiest, they don’t overwhelm his undulating vocals.
In fact, there’s often more breathing room in these versions, which means Hegarty’s bold statements—“I always contain your desire to hurt me,” he sings on the title track—leave lasting impressions long after they make contact.
Playlist picks: “Cripple and the Starfish,” “Cut the World,” “Future Feminism”