Antony Hegarty has no apparent interest in being an ordinary pop star, and it stands to reason he wouldn't be interested in making an ordinary live album, either. In 2006, Hegarty collaborated with artist and filmmaker Charles Atlas on a performance piece called Turning
, in which Atlas created carefully detourned video projections of a handful of women ("beauties," as they were identified by Hegarty and Atlas) whose difficult life experiences often belied their appearance, while Hegarty's band Antony and the Johnsons performed a set of their powerfully emotional and atmospheric songs. Atlas directed a documentary about the tour, also called Turning
, while Antony and the Johnsons have released a soundtrack album that documents the London date on the tour. Stripped of its visuals (and even without Atlas's images, watching Hegarty wring the joy and horror of this music out of himself is powerful stuff), the Turning
album seems significantly less ambitious than either the film or the stage show, but the strong palette of human passions is very much the same in these 17 songs, and the performances are extraordinary. Hegarty has a one-of-a-kind voice, and a near operatic control over his instrument; he doesn't sound much like anyone else in contemporary popular music as he glides from note to note aided by his carefully modulated vibrato, and his ability to make his songs of outcasts and lost souls come to vivid, heartbreaking life is truly remarkable. Just as impressive are the Johnsons, whose arrangements are artful and an ideal match for Hegarty, while leaving enough aural and emotional breathing room to make the most of the dynamics. In addition, these recordings are pristine, catching the interplay between the singer and the musicians with striking and transparent clarity. In short, without seeing Atlas's film, Turning
is simply a live recording of Antony and the Johnsons on-stage in London, but thankfully, given their talent and their commitment to their craft, that's more than enough to make this a remarkable experience.