The first time you hear Antony sing is like sitting in a diner with a close friend while they pour their heart out over some calamity in their life, or about the girl they just met who theyâ€™re sure their going to marry. Itâ€™s the purest of discoveries. His voice is unlike any youâ€™ve heard before, and I am confident you wonâ€™t here many who sound like him after, either. Parallels have been drawn between Antony and Nina Simone, but that only helps to create a loose context to start from. Ultimately, Antony is the quintessential one-of-a-kind singer. He has amazing range that allows him to drill a falsetto and then drop a powerful line in the low register with equally as much ease. The notion of voice as instrument is overusedâ€“with Antony itâ€™s an understatement. His band The Johnsons, is essentially a small orchestra backing up his intensely personal songs with beautiful, discreet support.
Take one look at Antony, an androgynous white guy with a penchant for womenâ€™s clothing, and you could write him off far too soon as some kind of campy side show. You cannot get by these attributes, as they help guide the music that Antony creates with a truly deft touch. His first album, Antony and the Johnsons (2001) is loaded with gut-wrenchingly personal and perfectly crafted ballads about the rebirth of a boy into something different. Maybe not a woman, but certainly not just a boy. The album included songs like â€śCripple and Starfishâ€ť, â€śHitler in My Heartâ€ť and â€śAtrocitiesâ€ť, all of which deal with Antonyâ€™s sexual ambiguity in one way or the other. The gem of the album, though is â€śCripple and Starfishâ€ť, with violin and piano accompanying Antonyâ€™s lyrics like, â€śI am very happy/So please hit me/I am very very happy/So come on hurt me/Iâ€™ll grow back like a Starfish.â€ť Antonyâ€™s other noteworthy single was â€śI Fell In Love With A Dead Boyâ€ť, which plays like a metaphor for the death of his manhood, and the lamenting of its demise.
2005 now brings Antonyâ€™s second full-length album I Am A Bird Now, which is not much different from his self-titled debut in terms of theme or tone, but it still seems to find new ways to use the band and his voice, along with his sadomasochistic lyrics, to make an album that is uniquely its own. It doesnâ€™t hurt that Antony brings along 4 of his biggest fans (Rufus Wainwright, Lou Reed, Devendra Banhart and Boy George) to provide guest vocals on 4 of the songs. While the debut albumâ€™s cover is that of an almost angelic Antony with a quasi-halo over his head, the new album presents a much darker tone at face value, with Antony in bed, dressed as woman, shot in black and white. The music itself is more positive here, though, with Antony proclaiming in the albumâ€™s title, â€śI Am a Bird Nowâ€ť. The songs include â€śHope Thereâ€™s Someoneâ€ť where Antonyâ€™s wishes for someone to spend his life with, â€śFor Today I am A Boyâ€ť about the transition that Antony is going through, and â€śYou Are My Sisterâ€ť, a tender moment of sibling hope. Antony revisits the theme of violence in â€śFistful of Loveâ€ť with the same comfort that made the listener decidedly uncomfortable when listening to â€śCripple and Starfishâ€ť on the first album.