Music Reviews
The Crying Light

Antony and the Johnsons The Crying Light

(Rough Trade) Rating - 8/10

2008 shined well on Antony Hegarty. The immensely talented frontman of lethargic chamber pop vehicle Antony and the Johnsons found perhaps unlikely success as one of a team of vocalists for the new-disco club pop group Hercules and Love Affair. The group’s debut, self-titled release met high critical acclaim (George Booker gave the record an 8/10 here) and found its way onto many a year-end list. The album’s opus of a lead single, the 6-minute-plus, Antony-sung Blind spun equally in blogsters’ headphones and glowstick-lit raves. The band gave new life, and more importantly, a new face to Antony – one that shed the languid for the energetic, the morose for the hyperactive.

And yet, for all the praise the album received, I for one never felt the medium was a perfect fit for the singer. The record took a long time to grow on me. In fact, when I was first handed the album last summer, I simply didn’t get it – one listen and back on the shelf it went for a good six months. I, like many of us, I’m sure, first heard of the record as Antony’s one-off side-project. Of course, that has proven not only misguided, but also downright wrong. Hercules and Love Affair is a great album in its own right, a masterful debut, and Antony’s unique warble glows like a beacon among the many disparate vocals found on the record. But with 2009’s release of The Crying Light, my early contentions to Hercules and Love Affair find form, support, and perhaps even some semblance of vindication. The issue at hand is not the quality of the Hercules record, but rather the simple fact that Antony is capable of so much more, without the needless adornment of blips and beeps.

If The Crying Light serves to remind us of anything, it is that Antony’s voice is indeed too stunning and too pure to be obscured with electro-charged synth beats and sweaty bodies – my initial problem with the Hercules and Love Affair record. To quote James Franco’s character in Pineapple Express, it’s “like killing a unicorn". What made I Am a Bird Now, Antony and the Johnsons’ 2005 Mercury Prize winning album (and Antony and the Johnsons’ 2000 self-titled debut, for that matter), so powerful was Antony’s utterly arresting vocals, front and center, vulnerable yet commanding, guiding listeners through a poetically beautiful melancholic world. While The Crying Light marks a return for Antony’s vox to the sparse arrangements of sweet piano, soft acoustic guitar, and swoon-worthy strings, it merely continues right where I Am a Bird Now left off, matching its predecessor step for step. Perhaps the one criticism it might receive is that it’s a little too much like its predecessor; its arrangements, its tempo, its moods. That said, it’s hard to deny the record admiration with songs like Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground or Daylight and the Sun – tracks so innately beautiful they are simply breathtaking. The record waits patiently to be played on for a long autumn drive through the country, the wind whistling gently, the orange and yellow leaves lilting along with the violins, and Antony confessing directly to you.

Antony Hegarty is many things. He is an artist; January 17 through February 28, 2009, the Isis Gallery in London will be home to his first UK art exhibition. He is an actor; he took a role in the film Animal Factory alongside Steve Buscemi and appeared in I’m Your Man, a documentary about Leonard Cohen. He is a gay and transgendered rights activist; recently, Antony took notable offense to Sean Penn’s being cast in Milk during an interview with New York Magazine, suggesting that heterosexual men for homosexual characters is “like blackface” or “a Hollywood minstrel show” (comments he later tempered by apologizing to Sean Penn on the band’s website). He is both a pop-disco singer and a somber chamber pop singer. But of his many talents, of his varied forms of artistic output, The Crying Light shows us that there is one medium of output that will undoubtedly remain his most naturally beautiful, his most perfect fit.