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Antony And The Johnsons - The Crying Light

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 10 / 2 / 2009



Antony And The Johnsons - The Crying Light
Label: Rough Trade
Format: CD

intro

Only gently progressive third album from Antony and the Johnsons, which while not moving on as much as many would have expected from his Mercury prize-winning last record, 'I Am A Bird, Now', remains a serious contribution from an unique talent


The second album by Antony and the Johnsons, ‘I Am A Bird, Now’ (2005) was so astoundingly good that the Mercury judges felt obliged to offer him the prize, despite the fact that nearly everyone involved in its recording and release had been (to all extents and purposes) American. But, at the time, I rather suspected it would be a one off. Certainly, Antony’s first album - released five years earlier - was nothing like as good, and you would be forgiven for thinking that this strange looking and sounding man - who would have seemed odd in any setting, from the Big Brother house to an episode of 'Monkey Dust' - wouldn’t be able to pull this off again. Certainly, it was the element of shock and surprise that got Antony so many column inches even before he won at a televised music awards ceremony - and of course the presence of Lou Reed and Boy George as guest vocalists. Perhaps that made it too easy to forget that he had written some astonishingly beautiful pieces of music. This time around, Antony has chosen to collaborate with classical arrangers Maxim Moston and Doug Wieselman, along with Phillip Glass protégé Nico Muhly, and has resisted the temptation to again call on his celebrity friends. He is pretty famous himself, these days, after all. I rather suspect that, on hearing ‘The Crying Light’, select critics will lament the fact that it sounds broadly the same as his last album (In fact, I‘ve just read one in 'The Guardian' that did just that, and thus dismissing as average an album the reviewer actually seemed to really enjoy). Critics can be awkward beings and on their terms such a reaction is fair enough, I suppose, but most fans, surely, will have been hoping that Antony offers another album they can enjoy as much as the last one. The latter group have been granted their wish, and, by that criteria, the follow up is a great success. The first thing we are greeted by is Antony’s magnificent voice - which sounds roughly like a more feminine Nina Simone, and has the operatic quality Rufus Wainwright would clearly like his voice to have, with apparently far less effort. Opening track, ‘Her Eyes Are Underneath The Ground’ is lush and melodic, and instantly memorable. Granted, it sounds much like the songs on ‘I Am A Bird, Now’, but its important to note that it would have been one of its stand out tracks. Accompanied by piano and strings, it is his voice that is placed firmly at the centre of the mix. Following this comes ‘Epilepsy Is Dancing’, not the cheeriest of concepts, which moves things into a more upbeat territory, while being remarkably tuneful. However, from here on he gives a little bit more space to his fellow musicians, and sets the tone for the rest of the album. Subtly gentle drums and light acoustic guitar increasingly flourish on repeated listens. On one of the album’s two lengthier tracks, ‘One Dove’, he seems to be making more of a personal gesture - though he has essentially continued upon the lyrical path that directed his previous album. His band keep you interested, resisting the temptation to rise over the course of five minutes into a crescendo, they add just enough to what is perhaps the album’s least engaging melody. He seems to realise that he has a winner with ‘Kiss My Name’, as close to a ‘belter’ as the Johnsons get, and vocally, plays it rather straight. The band, meanwhile, see this as a chance to let go, and we are greeted to operatic strings that wouldn’t have been out of place soundtracking the happy ending to a Disney film. Some of you will recognise ‘Another World’ from an EP released last year. It seems to be the heart of the album, and is both sombre and stately. Although it doesn’t leap out at the listener to the extent of the faster numbers, given time I suspect it will sound the most impressive. Antony has not moved on as much in what must have been three remarkable years as you might expect, though he has broadened his songwriting outwards slightly and has moved away from show tunes to a clear classical influence. Lyrically, he is less introspective, but still largely reliant on images of nature, birth and death. That gentle progression is fine by me. Admirers of his earlier work should enjoy this just as much. ‘The Crying Light’ is a serious contribution from a unique man, and I’m now genuinely looking forward to listening to his mournfully sad songs for years to come.



Track Listing:-
1 Her Eyes Are Underneath The Ground
2 Epilepsy Is Dancing
3 One Dove
4 Kiss My Name
5 The Crying Light
6 Another World
7 Daylight And The Sun
8 Aeon
9 Dust And Water
10 Everglade


Label Links:-
https://twitter.com/RoughTradeRecs
http://roughtraderecords.com/
https://www.facebook.com/roughtraderecords



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