Run with Eric + TIME

Albums Of The Decade: #22

I Am A Bird Now - Antony & The Johnsons [2005]

I think it's fair to say Antony & The Johnsons are a band destined to split opinion: like Marmite and Manchester United, you either love them or hate them. And from hearing them for the first time up until fairly recently, I hated them.

Well, hated may be a strong word but I was certainly annoyed at all the hype. This appeared to be a band driving their USP - Antony Hegarty's unbelievably beautiful/unbelievably stupid (the clincher that divides opinion) voice - so firmly you were forced to wonder if they had anything else to recommend them.

Initially, I Am A Bird confirmed this for me. The deliberately sparse instrumentation placed too much emphasis on Hegarty's vocals, like an expensive table being placed in the middle of a scarcely-furnished room with the host standing behind you saying, "Look at this nice table. Isn't it a nice table?" The album relied too much, and too obviously, upon his voice.

But in time I've realised I was wrong, as I so often am. In fact, Hegarty only has sole dominion over the vocals in half of the tracks, thanks to contributions from Rufus Wainwright (the short and sweet What Can I Do?), Boy George (the wonderful You Are My Sister) and even Lou Reed (Fistful Of Love, another excellent track). He's happy to share the wealth to create an album of riches.

[Song from 0:12 to 2:40]

Furthermore, the album's minimalist sound isn't to brazenly show off his vocals, but to accompany them in the most appropriate way. They wouldn't work as well, or even at all, over anything loud, complicated or even fast (although this is a decent effort). The music compliments as well as complements Hegarty's voice.

Also, it's, y'know, good. Judging the backing only by how it presents the obvious is to do it a massive disservice. Although I'm personally not a fan of the rising crescendo of opening offering Hope There's Someone, which appeared in every 'Single of the Year' list, I do love the similar effect created in For Today I Am A Boy with a passion similar to that bestowed in each and every song.

Strings, too, which can make or destroy a record, are used to astonishingly good effect, turning nice into beautiful again and again (brilliant closing number Bird Guhl providing a good example). Fistful Of Love, meanwhile, concludes with a brass invasion that is no less than hugely uplifting.

I Am A Bird Now is, I have realised, superb from start to finish. Even extended sample Free At Last is there on merit, instead of merely delaying the end. And lyrically, it's just lovely: when a song with the chorus, "You are my sister and I love you - may all of your dreams come true" avoids being saccharine, you know he can write.

An album, and artist, I'm happy to have been wrong about.

Spotify link.

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Albums Of The Decade: #22 + TIME