Jan Ní Fhlanagáin
posted on February 20, 2009 18:00
A review of the album The Crying Light by Antony and The Johnsons
Review Snapshot:The spine tingling vibrato remains very much in evidence and the bruised and broken hearts that found refuge in ‘I Am Bird Now’ are bathed in ‘The Crying Light’. However those with high hopes for this record may feel a little short changed as great intentions are oft hinted at but not always realised. Nonetheless there aren’t many artists at work right now that stir the soul and make it sing quite like these guys do.
The Cluas Verdict? 7.5 out of 10
Antony Hegarty is most certainly a card carrying member of the MVC (Marmite Vocals Club) and along with the likes of Joanna Newsom, Bob Dylan and Will Oldham (among others) is adored and abhorred in equal measure for his somewhat idiosyncratic vocal style. Column inches are written about it and many heated exchanges between friends fuelled by it to such an extent that it threatens to overshadow what is possibly one of Mr. Hegarty’s greater talents – that of perspective.
The ability to compose lyrics which seem to emanate from a unique viewpoint but still embody a universal truth of feeling is a relatively rare and wonderful gift. The Mercury Music Prize winning ‘I Am Bird Now’ is packed full with examples of this and thankfully ‘The Crying Light’ is not bereft of them either.
‘Epilepsy is Dancing’ describes the freneticism of a fit as a transcendental movement with it’s own choreography, ‘I’m finding my rhythm as I twist in the snow, oh the metal burned in me down the brain of my river or the fire was searching for a water way home’. It’s waltz-like tempo and lilting melody contrast deftly with the subject matter providing one of the album’s highlights fairly early on in proceedings.
This album marks a break away from the torch songs of the last record and a move, however small, towards a more textured sound akin to that of Antony and the Johnsons live. ‘Kiss My Name’ and ‘Aeon’ in particular allow melodies and arrangements to match the intensity of the vocals rather than compete with them – no doubt thanks to the contribution of contemporary classical composer Nico Muhly.
Having cited the writing of this album as an opportunity to reflect on his relationship with the natural world, it’s no surprise that mother earth and her ailing health loom large over The Crying Light. However, ‘Another World’, ‘Daylight and the Sun’ and final track ‘Everglade’ teeter on the brink of over-indulgence and fail to pack the emotional punch we’ve come to expect, and long for, from Mr. Hegarty. There is however, a certain cinematic quality to ‘Everglade’ which calls to mind the autumnal landscapes of New England and the sweeping and soaring vocal lends itself perfectly to the mantle of closing track.
Although moving, beautiful and stirring in places, what prevents this album from being truly great is a lack of cohesion. Tracks fail to flow from one to the other and the somewhat jarring joinery between them creates a touch of unease which prevents the listener from surrendering to the record. ‘Dust and Water’ for example evokes the haunting sound of Gregorian chanting but sounds so utterly out of place that the listener is jolted back to reality rather than being enveloped in their own crying light, and that’s a crying shame.
Jan Ní Fhlanagáin