ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS: THE CRYING LIGHT (2009)
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.
With the release of The Crying Light, preceded by the EP Another World a year earlier, we finally learn why Antony Hegarty is so sad, and no, it is not because nobody wants to whip him because he is fat and ugly. It is because we have misused our planet and pretty soon we are all going to die — or, at least, mutate into legions of emo-coiffured zombies, lurking by night among the ruins of civilization.
At least, such was the conclusion reached by a number of prominent critics, who, upon listening to 'Another World', have decided that Hegarty went eco-conscious, and since there are few things more politically correct than a queer Greenpeace-friendly multiculturalist (the latter side is emphasized by the sleeve cover, a photo of famous Japanese butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno — now that you all know what butoh is, this is practically edutainment!), The Crying Light shot all the way up to #1 on the pan-European Billboard.
Nevertheless, it's not that bad. Nobody really forces us to concentrate on the album's essence as a mix of butoh, masochism, and environmentalism, i. e. one more example of an «artist» so desperate for acceptance he'll try any combination of the uncombinable as long as each individual element is currently en vogue. The Crying Light has elements of it all, but they are not crucial. In fact, even the lyrics to 'Another World' need not necessarily be understood straightforwardly, in a «look what they've done to our planet» sense. The guy is simply telling us that he has no more hopes of happiness left for this world. Certainly many of us feel the same way, don't we?
A bigger concern than «trendiness» for me is that this third album, clearer than ever, shows that Antony has hit his threshold and has nowhere else to go. We get the exact same formula: minor chord piano ballads with tristesse-oriented strings and floating vocals. And this time around, there are no guest stars to provide the spice of life: it is Hegarty and his own griefs all the way through. Not that it is, in any way, easy to understand where exactly the man could travel from here — he has polished and fortified his niche to the major envy of all possible competitors, but, having dug so deep in it, there is no more way out.
It is good, then, that at least Hegarty's melodic talents have not abandoned him. About a half of the tunes are pure atmosphere, but when he gives things a little rhythmic punch, hooks start to materialize with ease. 'Kiss My Name' may be a fairly clumsy song title, but since it actually refers to the idea of Antony's mother embracing his future tombstone, it makes sense, and the violins that dance up and down around the main rhythm create a beautiful fairy-tale impression, alleviating the darkness of the lyrics. See, being dead is not all that bad.
'Another World' takes us in the opposite direction — utter minimalism — but makes its point with plenty of stateliness, reminiscent a bit of Brian Eno's faraway successes in the «ambient ballad» genre. (On 'Dust And Water', however, I believe Antony is going way too far with the minimalism — as efficient an instrument as his voice is, he is long past that stage where it merely took him to open his mouth and properly direct the air stream to make his point).
A few other tunes may deserve specific mention, but it will take a really major fan to emphasize their individuality, so let me just state this: no big admirer of Antony's inner world will be disappointed by the way he extracts it on the outside over the fourty minutes of Crying Light, yet if you'd rather treat The Johnsons as a moderately delightful, but passable curio born out of the necessities of the early 21st century, you need not go beyond I Am A Bird Now. Thumbs up, out of respect for the intelligent craft of the final product, but in the immediate future, it would perhaps be better for all of us if Mr. Hegarty finally switched to sepia-tinted visual installations.