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Antony and The Johnsons - Thank You For Your Love

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Artist: Antony and The Johnsons

Album: Thank You For Your Love

Label: Secretly Canadian

Review date: Sep. 1, 2010

Like the torso on its cover, the title track of Antony & The Johnsons’ new EP — a song that will also appear on the Swanlights full-length in October — is both curious and meager. It opens as if it’s been playing for a while — like the stylus was dropped at random onto a groove. In this gesture there’s an assumption of prior knowledge — a suggestion that if you’re listening to this candle-lit piano and Antony Hegarty’s flickering vibrato, you need no time to get acquainted. You must already be familiar with the contours of this public-private world.

It’s hard to know whether or not this assumption is safe. Part of the draw with Antony is that he insists, even solipsistically, on laying his feelings bare while simultaneously cloaking them in artifice. There’s an appealing tension between his confessional style and his theatricality — his reveal and his furious wrapping in contexts. If we take you (and “Thank You For Your Love” consists of little other than Hegarty’s trembling, proffered thanks) to be his listeners, then things become agonizingly self-indulgent rather quickly. If you shrinks to Hegarty’s New York — a credible reading given the music video, which consists of black-and-white Super 8 footage Hegarty shot upon arriving in the city — then this love can be appreciated even as it squeezes some of us out. If you shrinks still further — becomes someone who matters deeply to Hegarty, someone we can’t ever know — then we might even identify with it, however paradoxically. This, of course, is how pop songs work.

Most voices don’t raise these questions. Another singer might blithely sing “thank you for your love” and we would accept the lyric as banal if we bothered to hear it at all. But Hegarty’s voice — as you know, and as he knows you know — doesn’t allow so tepid a response. Still, as the minutes tick by, Hegarty gives us nothing while bluffing at giving us his being. His voice climbs over punching brass but rarely wavers from its pat declaration. It’s very odd, almost like unsentimental bathos.

The EP’s final track, a bleak cover of “Imagine,” is even more difficult to know what to do with. Over a drone wash by William Basinski, Hegarty swaps Lennon’s “us” for himself (“No hell below me / Above me only sky””), imploring himself to imagine, and the rest of us to… imagine him imagining? I’m not sure. Unlike “Thank You For Your Love” — a puzzle that doubles efficiently as wallpaper — whatever conceptual nugget is buried within is too unbearable to fish out.

Squeezed in between, however, are winning devotionals. “My Lord My Love” — included as a bonus on some versions of The Crying Light — is fiercely focused, with Antony struggling as much against the flaring string accents as the fear of bad things happening to good people. But “Pressing On” is the standout — a Dylan cover with precious little Dylan baggage. Pressing with gossamer lightness on a different set of syllables, and helped along by a miniature music box orchestra of tinkling chimes and vibes, Antony swaps Saved-era defiance for a more careful aura of commitment, regardless of the fore-grounded “I.” For an artist who seems closest with a barrier in between, an ’80s Dylan gospel throwaway becomes the EP’s best shot at a direct hit.

By Nathan Hogan

Other Reviews of Antony and The Johnsons

Antony & The Johnsons

I Am A Bird Now

The Crying Light


Cut the World

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