For all the accolades Antony and the Johnsons have garnered since releasing I Am a Bird Now, it’s very clear the band is an acquired taste.
Antony’s androgynous voice is disarming. I’m as open-minded to disarming voices as the next hipster, but even I had to adjust to his husky tremble.
But that disarmingness is seductive, just as his intimate music.
I Am a Bird Now is actually more conventional than Antony’s self-titled debut. The lush strings and sparse piano trio provide a cabaret setting for the album’s songs.
That seemingly simple instrumentation lends itself to some beautiful departures. The conclusion of "Hope There’s Someone" breaks down, as the band pounds on a series of chords and a sea of Antonys sing in a haze. "Fistfull of Love", by contrast, builds to an old-fashioned soul jam.
On "Free at Last", a Morse code pulse punctuates the rambling of a heavily-accented Japanese man.
As beautiful as Antony’s music can get, there’s some pretty graphic content in the lyrics.
"My lady’s story is one of annihilation/My lady’s story is one breast amputation," Antony sings on "My Lady’s Story". On "Fistfull of Love", he sings, "I feel your fist, and I know it’s our love". Is this a romanticization of domestic violence? Or the stated expression of a sexual proclivity? "I’m left to pick up the hints, the little symbols of your devotion." I guess it’s the former.
Thing is, I Am a Bird Now has such a personality, it’s tough to resist the charms of its honesty.
"One day I’ll grow up and be a beautiful woman/One day I’ll grow up and be a beautiful girl," Antony sings on "For Today I’m Boy". I have no intention of giving up my johnson, but even this tune is catchy enough to sing along.
Guest appearances by Rufus Wainwright and Boy George are some of the album’s most inspired moments.
When George chimes in on the chorus of "You Are My Sister", it’s wonderous to hear how much soul his voice possesses, and it’s criminal to think most of his career has underutilized it.
Antony gets out of Wainwright’s way on "What Can I Do", providing a nice interlude for the album. Letting someone take the spotlight on one track somehow reinforces Antony’s presence.
As disturbing and violent as I Am a Bird Now can get, it’s steeped in contemplative beauty. In the end, this album’s charms wins, and all those accolades make perfect sense.
Assuming you can get past that voice.
Antony and the Johnsons won’t appeal to a number of people, including the most open of hipsters. But if you can get into it, you’ll be glad you had.