Antony and the Johnsons The Crying Light Review

Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Evidence that the Mercury Prize was no fluke.

Chris White 2009

In 2005, the unique 21st century cabaret of Antony and the Johnsons' Mercury Prize-winning second album I am A Bird Now made them the darlings of the British music press. Three years on, they're back with a follow-up that, while frequently enchanting, falls short of matching its illustrious predecessor.

There's no voice anywhere quite like Antony Hegarty's. Pitched somewhere between classic jazz diva and the plaintive cries of a wounded beast, it is a thing of rare beauty, pathos and soul, and as on the Anglo-Americans' earlier releases, it is absolutely central to The Crying Light.

That's not to say that Antony and friends have delivered a carbon copy of their most celebrated work – far from it. What we have here is a clear shift in style from the melodramatic torch songs of I Am A Bird Now to a more soothing, intricately arranged sound, featuring richly textured orchestral arrangements from composer Nico Muhly.

Focusing largely on the singer's relationship with nature, the album's ten tracks shimmer prettily but rarely flow with real force. There are no showstoppers that grab you instantly by the emotional scruff of the neck like Hope There's Someone or You Are My Sister, arguably the standout moments from I Am A Bird Now.

With repeated listens though, the gems do start to shine through. Kiss My Name is perhaps the closest thing to a pop song with its shuffling beat, swooping strings and insistent piano riff; One Dove is a stately ballad sung with heartbreaking passion; Everglade a musically exquisite tone poem that brings proceedings to a delightfully serene close.

Elsewhere, The Crying Light is guilty of self-indulgence; notably the over-long Daylight And The Sun and the unintelligible gurgling of Dust And Water. It's occasionally slow and ponderous, and the earnest tone throughout can become a little wearying.

But overall this is thoughtful, sumptuously crafted music that, although not as life-affirming as its principal creator might hope, is nevertheless evidence that the Mercury Prize was no fluke.

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