ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS: I AM A BIRD NOW (2005)
1) Hope There's Someone; 2) My Lady Story; 3) For Today I Am A Boy; 4) Man Is The Baby; 5) You Are My Sister; 6) What Can I Do; 7) Fistful Of Love; 8) Spiralling; 9) Free At Last; 10) Bird Gerhl; 11*) Find The Rhythm Of Your Love.
Here is the official proscription list of people who love (to hurt) Antony Hegarty: (a) Lou Reed, founding father of the Velvet Underground, punk rock hero and overall horrid guy; (b) Devendra Banhart, singer-songwriter, visual artist, and an overall psychic type who likely has no problem finding God under the rim of the toilet bowl; (c) Boy George, founding father of Culture Club, quintessential icon of androgyny, and an overall queer type; (d) Rufus Waynwright, singer-songwriter, an overall morose introspective type with a penchant for classical influences; (e) Joan Wasser, real hot chick successfully mascherading as an indie artist by playing violin.
There may be others, of course, but these are the ones openly credited on various guest spots on Antony and the Johnsons' sophomore record — by the vast-reaching range and even distribution of this selection we must understand that everybody loves (to hurt) Antony Hegarty, and those that don't merely don't count as everybody. Apparently, loving (to hurt) Antony Hegarty was the ultimate artsy trend in 2005.
Does it help? Frankly, I did not even start to notice until I took a look at the credits. Sure, at times Antony started sounding a little strange — on 'Fistful Of Love', he'd start off with a deep spoken part; on 'What Can I Do?' he'd switched from his usual falsetto to a nasal tenor; on 'Spiralling', on the contrary, he'd pushed that falsetto even further. But how is a regular guy to know it's not just Antony Hegarty playing hypnotic tricks on us? How is he to know the exact limitations of this single man's vocal powers? The man is, after all, a bird now, and still he promises that "one day I'll grow up, I'll be a beautiful woman, one day I'll grow up, I'll be a beautiful girl". But today he is a child, today he is a boy. He may as well be Lou Reed, for all we know, or Devendra Banhart, or he might be Candy Darling, whose deathbed photo adorns the album cover.
But seriously, I Am A Bird Now is a terrific piece of work. There are no major stylistic or aesthetic departures from the self-titled album, but the formula has been refined and polished, the hooks tightened up, and the guest spots do help to alleviate the monotonousness of it all. Some listeners have complained, stating that the album is specifically geared towards gay audiences. This is bullshit. Obviously, if your ideal of a musical hero is Eric Adams of Manowar, or Ted Nugent, you will most likely take a ritual piss on this record and nail its shards to the doors of the nearest gay bar. But any sensitive, emotional person, regardless of his / her orientation, is equally liable to be entertained, and, perhaps, even moved by at least some of the tracks.
If anything, it is the unflinching devotion to masochism, not homosexuality, that continues to form the backbone of Antony's whole image. It is easy to take 'Fistful Of Love' and laugh at it — either out of condescension for the whole idea of enjoying love-induced pain, or because of the specific way that Antony propagates it, from the «long-term club member» point of view. But it is a fine, nicely constructed song all the same, with a gripping crescendo whose pathos is either completely heartfelt or magnificently simulated, and, in these circumstances, who really cares about lyrics like "I feel the whip, I know it's out of love"? Besides, whoever prevents one from seeing "the whip" as a metaphor — and plus, Lou Reed is here speaking the intro, reminding us that, somehow, we have all somehow managed to love the Velvet Underground's 'Venus In Furs', where the masochistic message was far clearer pronounced. It just didn't use to have that elevated romantic touch to it, but times change.
There is, actually, a ton of different things to be said about each individual track on here. Lyrics, intonations, moods — Freud would have a field day, and there'd still be plenty of survivors left for Jung to mop them up. If anything, Hegarty shows you how easy it is to concoct a tragedy out of nothing: all you have to do is locate your inner male (if you are a male, it's not that hard), then find your inner female (a bit harder if you are not a female, but still possible), and make them do battle with each other. The energy of the ensuing conflict is inexhaustible, like the atom's power; and it is especially effective if you have plenty to eat, a good roof above your head, a host of loving and caring people around, and a steady dayjob — because a human being needs suffering to stay a human being, and how do you suffer if there's seemingly nothing to suffer for? Let Antony Hegarty show you how to rub two sticks together.
I Am A Bird Now is definitely the man's best album that cannot ever be bested. When you stick to that kind of schtick, memorable vocal melodies, convenient guest spots, and a humble thirty-five minute running length just can't be beat. All of the songs make pretty much the same point, but all of them do it cleverly, and on the peaks — 'Hope There's Someone', 'Fistful Of Love', 'Spiraling' — the man's unbridled romanticism almost transcends theater and makes one forget all about the conventions of the XXIst century. Thumbs up, brain-wise and partially heart-wise. (And yet, a sidenote: dear Mr. Antony, the line "Forgive me, let live me" may just be the ugliest disruption of English syntactic laws that I have ever encountered).