Sunday, 1 February 2009

Antony and the Johnsons - The Crying Light

Antony and the Johnsons The Crying Light is the successor to the Mercury prize winning I Am A Bird Now. The complications of following a critically acclaimed album are sometimes complex for an artist; should they pursue pastures new or give the audience more of what they already seem to like ? It seems that for the most part, this album plays safe. Antony Hegarty has produced a work of chamber ballads that play on old territory in terms of music. His voice remains the centre point of focus, a shimmering warbling Nina Simone for a new generation, but collectively the songs have less emotional punch and consistency than their predecessors, despite the impresssive vocal.

From the opening Her Eyes Are Underneath The Ground, where a piano and simple string arrangement accompany Hegarty, to Dust And Water where an almost silent ambient backing allows him to mournfully sing nonsense lyrics, these songs are slight and delicate. From an artist of lesser stature they would be considered better than average. Antony and the Johnsons however have expectation to live up to, and this time around they don’t quite make the grade.

Lyrically the album seems to have moved from the personal to a more global theme of nature, and the words in this respect are a failure. “I’m gonna miss the sea, I’m gonna miss the snow, I’m gonna miss the bees, I’ll miss the things that grow,” he moans on Another World. “When the grass is green with grow, and my tears have turned to snow,” he bumbles on Kiss My Name. It’s like Key Stage 1 poetry at infant school. Of course, Hegarty can almost be forgiven because of his wondrous voice, but these words do not deliver the personal vulnerability that we saw on songs such as Hope There’s Someone and You Are My Sister, and for this reason they fall flat.

Individually many of these songs create some fine moments. Epilepsy Is Dancing is gorgeous chamber pop, with pastoral acoustic guitar accompanying the piano and strings as Hegarty sings “Then I cried in the kitchen, how I’d seen your ghost witching, as a soldering blue line, between my eyes .” Aeon breaks the mould of piano and strings with an almost bluesy electric guitar and strong but untheatrical vocal performance. And despite our criticisms of the lyrics of Another World, and its similarity to the songs on the previous album, it does remain a peaceful and rather sadly beautiful tune.

However when packaged together as a whole, the overall impact of the music in The Crying Light is one of Hegarty trying to hard to please, but lacking the spark or feeling to create anything other than a dull sense of emptiness. Frustratingly, The Crying Light is a lesser version of what has gone before.

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