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Antony and The Johnsons - Antony & The Johnsons

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Artist: Antony and The Johnsons

Album: Antony & The Johnsons

Label: Secretly Canadian

Review date: Jul. 30, 2004

Antony and the Johnson’s reissued self-titled album is a passionate, hilarious, touching enigma of a record. Even the cover art – a haloed and powdered Antony standing alone amidst an angelic blue backdrop – strikes a middle ground between disturbing and strangely soothing, setting the stage for the idyllic alienation within.

Antony’s personal history is compelling, as well. Drawn to the nightlife of NYC and its tolerance of alternative lifestyles, he soaked up the city’s cultural freedoms like a sponge, translating his observances into highly-charged cabaret sets around the city. His surreal, but emotionally charged pieces began to draw attention from some heavy hitters in the New York art-music scene. Lou Reed even used Antony’s phenomenal multi-octave voice on a re-interpretation of his classic “Perfect Day” on his own recent Poe-inspired album The Raven.

The attention is well deserved. Antony’s gifted voice alone is enough to make even a casual listener take notice. Antony’s pipes bear an uncanny resemblance to those of the late Nina Simone, but his is not a ham-fisted impersonation. He channels all of the hollow want that colored Simone’s most affecting work, while boldly bringing his own anguished longings and desires to the forefront. Lyrically, Antony pulls no punches – the shocking “Hitler in my Heart” is a brief window into his provocative mind, featuring lines like “I find Hitler in my heart … From the corpses flowers grow” to his plaintive cry, “Don’t punish me for wanting your love inside of me.”

The instrumentation serves to not only soothe Antony’s conflicting lyrical passions, but also provides a luxurious counterbalance to his probing vibrato. Largely sweeping and operatic in scope, the gorgeous accompaniment somehow remains unpresumptuous – a perfect pillow for Antony’s fevered dreams. When Antony confesses that he “always wanted love to be hurtful,” on "Cripple And The Starfish," the arrangement does everything possible to emphasize tenderness and vulnerability. Much of the serene texture comes courtesy of violinist Liz Maranville. Her tender playing deftly matches Antony’s tales of abuse and longing.

Supremely well-produced, challenging, and often heartbreaking, Antony’s strange, brave style radiates an unearthly glow. With emotion and insight, he plumbs the darkest depths of the human condition with amazing grace.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

Other Reviews of Antony and The Johnsons

I Am A Bird Now

The Crying Light

Thank You For Your Love


Cut the World

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View all articles by Casey Rae-Hunter

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