Antony & The Johnsons - "Another World" (Another World)
Antony & The Johnsons’ perfectly-timed, cameo-laden (here a Boy George, there a Lou Reed) sophomore album I Am A Bird Now catapulted singer-songwriter Antony Hegarty out of the relative obscurity of David Tibet’s Durto roster. Not long after the album came out, Antony was playing to packed houses at Carnegie Hall. And when you walked into a gallery in Chelsea and heard his music used as the soundtrack to a slideshow of Nan Goldin photos, you knew his transformation into a full-blown art world celebrity was complete.
Following up a critically acclaimed breakthrough album is understandably challenging. Some artists facing this unenviable situation choose to take risks and try to forge new musical paths for themselves, while others seem to get stuck trying to replicate the things that worked for them before. Unfortunately, Antony seems to have fallen into the later rut. As an album, The Crying Light is neither as revelatory nor as consistent as I Am A Bird Now. And coming in the wake of last year’s incredible, disco-influenced Hercules and Love Affair LP, the return of Antony’s mournful, Nina Simone-influenced musical persona feels somewhat stagnant. The songs that work best, like the single “Another World,” have a depth and soulful grit far beyond anything on Antony’s prior albums. But overall the album seems transitional rather than a new creative peak.
I recently heard Antony’s music described as “genuine.” While I wouldn’t question the honesty of the emotions he expresses in his songs, I don’t think there’s any question that there’s at least a moderate level of artifice and theatricality in Antony’s vocal style. There’s one moment on The Crying Light where all the affectation disappears and it suddenly feels like you’re hearing the real Antony instead of the fabricated character he usually portrays. It happens on “Aeon,” when Antony drops the incessant vibrato; his warbling facade disappears as he growls very naturally and very directly, “Hold that man I love so much.” It’s the only moment on the album that feels like it breaks new ground, and it makes me hope that someday we’ll get to hear an album from plain ol’ Antony Hagerty.