Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The Crying Light

Could it be that his endless guest appearances on other people’s albums have left Antony with insufficient time and energy to dedicate to his own band? Certainly, The Crying Light feels a little disappointing, slight and under-worked despite its nearly four-year gestation. Antony’s claim that the group are “already on Kate Bush’s schedule” for album-making sounds like a boast, a recourse to that dubious equation between artistic perfectionism and just taking a bloody long time over making a record. It doesn’t explain why these ten tracks feel, as a whole, fairly minor and insubstantial. That said, there are things to love: the way the album answers I Am A Bird Now's final image of transcendence by starting subterranean (“Her Eyes Underneath the Ground,” which seems like a mere taster of wonderful things to come, turns out to be the record's great highlight); the redemptive elegance and off-kilter end of “One Dove”; the moment when it sounds like Antony’s singing “Jung’s eyes forlorn” on “Aeon”; the rapturous finale of “Everglade.” And of course throughout there’s always that voice with its arresting intimacy, its suggestions of secret knowledge, its ability to slice through race, gender and genre boundaries, and reach deep inside the listener. But what’s missing are the gospel elements, the sense of theatricality and drama, that characterised the debut album, or the subversive lyrical content that gave Bird Now bite. The Crying Light, with its tremulous, delicate arrangements, sometimes silly surreal-pastoral imagery and Antony’s mostly restrained vocals, is a little too exquisite for its own good, lacking the slightly dangerous, seedy eroticism of some of the earlier work. There’s a precious quality to the end result, the kind of studied artiness which turned the band's concert with the LSO back in October into a rather self-absorbed, masturbatory experience. It’s practically impossible, here, to imagine Antony singing a line like “I’ll swallow shit, laughing/On my bed of hay” as on his Divine eulogy. The somewhat Bush-ish “Epilepsy is Dancing” irritates, while “Kiss My Name,” percussive and quite dynamic in concert, sounds merely camp. “Dust and Water” could be Ladysmith Black Mambazo. But the biggest disappointment, to me, is the absence of “Christina’s Farm,” the shivers-down-the-spine highlight of the LSO show. Happily, though, Antony has the nicely unfashionable habit of using some of his best songs as B-Sides so it might yet turn up. And maybe, by that time, The Crying Light will have proved itself an album to grow into.

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